TRENTON, N.J. – The state auditor issued a report yesterday criticizing the Department of Community Affairs for failing to verify the income of those who received benefits through the low-income home energy assistance program (LIHEAP).
This is not the first time the Department of Community Affairs’ federally-funded low-income home energy assistance program has come under fire. A 2016 report from the state comptroller found that the DCA improperly awarded benefits to those whose incomes did not qualify for the program.
Assemblymen Hal Wirths and Jay Webber sponsor two bills, A2543 and A2540, that aim to fix flaws found in the reports. The proposed legislation would require the DCA to verify applicants’ income and ensure that applicants are not deceased.
“These bipartisan bills are commonsense and these practices should be commonplace in agencies dispersing millions of dollars in tax-payer funded assistance,” said Wirths (R-Sussex).
Through LIHEAP, eligible low-income households can receive up to $1,400 annually to pay for heating costs. There were 105,527 LIHEAP recipients in 2017.
“It’s time to force the DCA to do what it should be doing already, and both the comptroller and auditor say needs to be done – verify income,” said Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris). “Taxpayer dollars, which are intended for our most vulnerable, are being jeopardized by bureaucratic neglect. It has to stop.”
The auditor’s report released Tuesday found that 6,868 LIHEAP recipients in 2017 may have underreported their income. One applicant reported that she earned $31,000 per year, making her eligible for benefits; however, a simple income verification search revealed she earned $90,000 per year. The report also showed that 33 recipients were over-awarded $11,428 in benefits because their income was not verified.
The bills sponsored by Wirths and Webber passed the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee in May 2018.