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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—PRAB, a comprehensive human services agency located on Jersey Avenue, works hard each winter to make sure that every family in Middlesex County lives in the warm and comfortable house they deserve.
Initially started in 1969 as the Puerto Rican Action Board, PRAB has grown to be Middlesex County’s designated Community Action Agency and official processing agent for helping residents apply for energy assistance programs.
In addition to providing energy assistance, PRAB is also the largest preschool provider in New Brunswick, provides immigration counseling, afterschool tutoring, and a variety of other family-based services.
José Montes, the PRAB Executive Director, explains that the goal of PRAB as a comprehensive human services provider is to be “able to journey with people in multiple ways from early childhood… through youth programs, family programs, energy conservation” and throughout all challenges of adulthood.
One of the more popular winter community initiatives is PRAB’s energy assistance program. Comprised of both energy assistance and weatherization components, PRAB provides almost 100 families across Middlesex County with weatherization assistance, and thousands of households with energy assistance20% of the people helped through energy assistance programs reside in New Brunswick.
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (also known as LIHEAP) “assists eligible individuals and families to receive a benefit towards lowering their heating bills,” says Director of Development Jennifer Shamy. Households can receive up to $150.00 a month towards gas or electric utility bills.
To be eligible for LIHEAP, a person must reside in Middlesex County and have a household gross income at or below 200% the Federal Poverty Level.
PRAB works as the processing agent non-profit for Middlesex County. People in need of energy assistance can fill out the four page application and give it to PRAB to process. Once the person’s information is in the system, the application will be sent to the state to verify, then compensation will be sent to the utility companies.
PRAB is also responsible for processing Universal Service Fund applications. To be eligible for the Universal Service Fund, a program that was “created by the state of New Jersey to help make natural gas and electric bills more affordable for low-income households” according to the program application, one must have “a gross income at or below 175% of the Federal Poverty Level and pay more than 3% of annual income for electric/natural gas.” Both programs are under PRAB’s Energy Assistance umbrella of programs.
In addition to providing monetary assistance to residents who need help paying their energy bills, PRAB also offers weatherization services to anyone who qualifies.
The Weatherization Assistance Program was “created under Title IV of the Energy Conservation and Production Act of 1976 to reduce energy costs for low-income households by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes, while ensuring health and safety,” said Shamy. This service is entirely free.
Shamy explained that PRAB connects eligible households with professionally trained crews to “conduct energy audits and use advanced diagnostic equipment to determine the most appropriate cost-effective measures for each home.” There is no cost to participate in the program, and homes that are weatherized typically saved around $437.00 in heating and cooling costs a year.
The weatherization crew checks each residence for places where outside air could seep in, provides installation for commonly drafty areas such as doors to basements or attics, and provides energy efficient light bulbs. They also check major appliances such as the refrigerator and hot water heater to make sure that they are working at optimal condition. If there is a problem with an appliance it will be replaced. Eight hot water heaters were replaced in New Brunswick last year.
Rosemary Spicuzza, a weatherization recipient, said she “never expected the detail” the weatherization crew took, and that her home is much warmer in the winter months.
“I do feel a difference with the heat, and there are no drafts where there used to be,” she said.
Spicuzza, who has lived in the same residence for over twenty years, was also having trouble with her hot water heater and furnace. Upon inspection, it was shown that her hot water heater was leaking a dangerously high amount of carbon monoxide. The appliance was immediately replaced for free.
“I’ve never had a problem, no complaints. I was treated with respect and treated like a person,” Spicuzza said about the weatherization process. She recommends all people who are eligible “especially senior citizens” to sign up for weatherizations.
“Everyone should have that opportunity to be safe in their homes, and to save money,” Spicuzza said.