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Utility program looked at

NJ Shares is under scrutiny by state.

NEWARK, N.J. - A program meant to help New Jerseyans struggling with utility bills has come under scrutiny by state officials, who have raised questions about the way it is administered.

New Jersey's comptroller released an audit Tuesday of NJ Shares, a nonprofit program that provides emergency utility-bill assistance to households experiencing temporary financial difficulties.

Auditors reviewing the program from Jan. 1, 2009, to Sept. 7, 2012, found weak oversight of grant eligibility and verification, questioned some of the program's expenditures, and found its web-based intake system lacking enough security measures to keep information private.

More than a third of the 338 recipients the audit sampled lacked proper documentation to verify incomes of all household applicants, and found that 31 recipients should have been deemed ineligible when their stated incomes were compared with tax returns.

Officials for NJ Shares said in their response to the audit that they had no access to tax returns and must rely on documentation from applicants.

The report also questioned charges for promotional or community outreach events that included catered events at New Jersey Devils games, trips to Atlantic City, eight restaurant items each exceeding $1,000, and a bill for alcohol that topped $3,000.