On Tuesday a state office said that undeserving homeowners received assistance to pay their heat and electricity bills from a nonprofit organization. People lied about their income and fabricated marriages for this aid while many others in need received nothing.
Since it was founded 1998, NJ Shares has given money to over 175,000 households. However an audit conducted by the state comptroller’s office determined that a third of the grant recipients from 2009 to 2011 did not meet income requirements or didn’t have enough documentation to prove they were qualified. Some deliberately submitted false information.
NJ Shares has limited funding. For example, the organization turned down 19,000 applicants and gave grants to nearly 12,000 homeowners in 2010. The average grant issued with $587. The intent of this money is for households whose income is too high for government assistance but who still struggle to pay their utility bills.
NJ Shares president and CEO, Jim Jacob said, “NJ shares has been… The safety net for people who can’t qualify for other programs. We help to keep neighborhoods together.”
The nonprofit organization disputed a number of the Comptroller’s findings. After cross-referencing records with the division of taxation or Department of Labor, the audit confirmed that some recipients were not eligible for the program. Jacob said, “We asked the state if we could have access to those databases, and were not able to get that.” He said that all of the information that NJ shares obtained reflected that those people were eligible for grant.”
Jacob said, “The program does not reject applicants are failing to submit enough documentation if they can get the information on its own. We don’t want to turn them away. We don’t want them to go make a crisis decision.”
One of the households that received a grant and did not qualify was a woman who claimed that she made less than $4,000 a month, which qualified her for the grant. However, she failed to disclose that her spouse’s income was more than $5,400 a month. Had she disclosed her spouse’s income the household would not qualified.
There were also nine cases where people claimed to be married but did not file married on their tax returns. Claiming to be married, allows them to have a higher income limit. Eligibility for this program requires the applicant’s “be experiencing a financial crisis such as job loss or illness” and that their income be below 400% of the federal poverty line.
Jacob said that he is still confident with how NJ Shares operates, despite the findings. NJ shares said that it monitors applicant’s eligibility on a daily basis, in its formal response. The organization also confirm that stricter documentation requirements would slow down the process and people might not get the grant money in time to keep their utilities on.
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