Wirths and Webber demand action of fraud in federally-funded low-income home energy assistance program

Jay Webber

TRENTON — After multiple reports of the Department of Community Affairs’ mismanagement of the federally-funded low-income home energy assistance program (LIHEAP), Assemblymen Hal Wirths and Jay Webber push for the legislature to take action on their bills to ensure only eligible applicants receive benefits.

“How much evidence do we need before we do something to stop the DCA from awarding millions of dollars to people who underreported their income?” said Wirths (R-Sussex).

First News 12 New Jersey’s investigative reporter Walt Kane did on a story on Dennis Kerrigan, a whistleblower who witnessed fraud while working for a Mercer County agency administering LIHEAP funds. Kerrigan also alerted the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Department of Energy, which referred the case to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office. The AG’s office closed the case citing “insufficient evidence of a crime” and the Prosecutor’s Office declared the allegations “unsubstantiated.” However, a 2016 report issued by the state comptroller backs up the whistleblower’s claims. And just last week, a new report from the state auditor found as much as $3 million in benefits went to LIHEAP recipients who may have underreported their income.

“Watchdogs have told us repeatedly that bureaucratic negligence is enabling fraud, wasting public funds, and jeopardizing assistance to people who need it,” said Webber (R-Morris). “A simple bipartisan fix was proposed years ago. Let’s enact it before any more tax dollars are wasted.”

The Assemblymen’s bills (A2543 and A2540) would require the DCA to verify applicants’ income and ensure that applicants are not deceased.