A state-funded program that provides temporary financial assistance to individuals and families struggling to pay their energy bills would benefit from stronger oversight and stricter eligibility guidelines, according to an audit released today by the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC).

The audit specifically reviewed the assistance program administered by NJ SHARES, a non-profit group hired by the state that received approximately $21 million in state funding from 2009 through 2011.  The audit detailed questionable expenditures of NJ SHARES program funds as well as flaws in the non-profit agency’s procedures for determining which individuals and families are eligible for energy assistance grants.

“With winter quickly approaching, it is important that the state administer its heating assistance programs in a manner that is fair and equitable,” State Comptroller Matthew Boxer said.  “We have made a series of recommendations to further those goals, based in part on the experiences of other states.”

The audit also detailed a series of questionable expenditures by NJ SHARES.  While NJ SHARES officials stated that those particular funds came from a private company, OSC found that NJ SHARES had co-mingled state funds with its funding from outside sources, making it impossible to determine the funding source for the expenditures.

The questionable expenditures included catered affairs at New Jersey Devils hockey games totaling $2,676, as well as eight restaurant charges that each exceeded $1,000 and totaling $32,322.  One of those restaurant charges in Atlantic City included $3,339 for alcohol, in apparent violation of NJ SHARES policy that prohibits employees from drinking alcohol while engaged in NJ SHARES business.