NJ Residents Look to Private Organizations for Heating Assistance
Hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents rely on heating assistance to get through the winter. The number is growing—many more people are expected to require financial help this year than last, reports the PressofAtlanticCity.com Wednesday. Much of the support comes from government programs, such as the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which serves people making no more than 225 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s less than $50,000 a year for a family of four, and with average annual NJ property taxes of $7,045, it’s easy to see that less than $50,000 for a family may not leave much for heat.
Unfortunately, LIHEAP and similar programs are getting increasing stretched by the burgeoning demand. NJ’s LIHEAP is providing $609 (average) grants this year, which are almost 60 percent smaller than last year’s $1,500 grants. Funding is flat, but need is up: it’s projected that a third more people will apply for assistance. At the same time, according to the EIA, average residential heating oil costs will rise slightly this winter as well.
As Heatingoil.com has written, NJ’s LIHEAP program is not alone in coming up short. LIHEAP in Vermont, Pennsylania, and Ohio are all dealing with the consequences of greater-than-ever demand for assistance. (New York’s program seems ok so far, mostly because many eligible New Yorkers haven’t been taking advantage of it.)
With government resources overwhelmed, charities and not-for-profits are trying to take up the slack. For example, nonprofit New Jersey Shares assisted 20,000 households in 2009, providing up to $1,000 each for electric and heat. However, like the government programs, it’s being swamped by a rising tide of need: in 2007, only 8,100 households required its assistance, which means the number of households that need its help has grown two-and-a-half times in just two years.
High unemployment and a cold winter: this heating season will be a brutal one for many among us.