Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling to require LIHEAP handbooks to be updated annually and provide quarterly trainings for employees on administering the program was approved, 73-0, Thursday by the full Assembly.
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is a federally funded program that allows the State to provide assistance to help low-income residents cover home energy costs.
On October 12, 2016, the Office of the State Comptroller released an investigative report on LIHEAP titled “Administration of New Jersey’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.” According to the report, LIHEAP benefits were awarded to persons who did not meet the income requirements of the program due, in part, to insufficient checks by the agencies that administer LIHEAP.
“Seniors and disabled residents and tenants rely on the financial assistance to help with their heating and cooling costs,” said Assemblyman Houghtaling. “This was a good recommendation by the Comptroller that, with implementation, will help to improve services.”
The bill (A-2544) would require the department to prepare and annually update its low- income energy assistance program handbook containing the governing policies and eligibility requirements for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and to provide training sessions about the program on a quarterly basis. Under the bill, all employees of LIHEAP agencies who have LIHEAP responsibilities would be required to read and adhere to the updated handbooks, and the supervisors of these agencies who oversee LIHEAP work would be required to attend the quarterly training sessions. In addition, the bill directs the Department of Community Affairs to establish a schedule of days and hours of operation, a toll free number, and downloadable application on its Internet website to facilitate the receipt of benefits under the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
An agency that fails to substantially comply with these requirements may be disqualified by DCA form serving as a LIHEAP agency.
The bill was released by the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee on May 7. It will now go to the Senate for further consideration.