Assembly Democrats Call for Comptroller Investigation into Unspent Funds Meant to Help Residents Struggling to Pay Utility Bills
By Mel Fabrikant Friday, October 05, 2012, 04:10 PM EDT
A group of Assembly Democrats who have received rising complaints from constituents struggling to access a state program to help them pay their utility bills have sent a letter to the State Comptroller calling for an investigation into whether state resources are being fully allocated in an effective and efficient manner.
In doing so, Assembly members Benjie Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic), Connie Wagner (D-Bergen/Passaic), Tim Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic), Upendra Chivukula (D-Middlesex/Somerset), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Albert Coutinho (D-Essex) sent a letter to Comptroller Matthew Boxer outlining numerous areas of concern regarding the pace and effectiveness of the TRUE grant program.
The program is being administered by the Affordable Housing Alliance of Eatontown, which was awarded $25 million in state funding from the Board of Public Utilities to administer grants to New Jerseyans struggling to pay their utility bills.
“With unemployment still alarmingly high and utility costs continually rising, this program, much like the foreclosure assistance program, can make a crucial difference for residents struggling to stay in their homes,” the lawmakers said jointly. “We want to make sure the state is working with residents, not against them, to help weather these financial difficulties. We hope the Comptroller will heed our concerns and investigate the matter accordingly so we can ensure that these funds get disbursed in a timely manner before the severe winter weather months are upon us again.”
Chief among the lawmakers’ concerns is that only $4.74 million of the $25 million allotted to the program has been disbursed in its first year of a two-year contract. They also underscored concerns about the accessibility of the program, understaffing, and unreasonable guidelines that have forced the program to deny those most in need of assistance.