The state is ending its COVID-19-related moratorium on utility shutoffs as of July 1, with a grace period running through Dec. 31, Gov. Phil Murphy announced today.
During the grace period, people with unpaid utility bills will be protected from shutoffs and can enroll in payment assistance plans. “This is something we are taking very seriously. No one will face disconnection of their gas, electric or water service before the end of Dec. 31 2021,” Murphy said at his daily COVID-19 press briefing.
Dec. 31 was the date mentioned in the legislation the governor signed earlier this month allowing for the termination of other COVID-19-related executive orders and the public health emergency.
Households with residential internet service accounts used by school age children for educational purposes will be protected from disconnections. Additionally, the governor said the conclusion of the grace period will occur during the annual winter moratorium on gas and electric shutoffs for certain households including senior citizens and low income families. These groups will be protected from shutoffs until the middle of March 2022.
“Now that the public health emergency declaration has been lifted, it is proper to restore our utility marketplace,” Murphy added. “However, we are going to maintain strong consumer protections as families get back on their feet.”
He said American Rescue Plan (ARP) money can be used toward utility assistance and said he will continue to evaluate how to best use those funds to help families.
The federal COVID-19 related aid for New Jersey totals $6.2 billion. The state is also expected to close out fiscal year 2021 with a $10 billion budget surplus.
When asked about the surplus and if he was considering cutting taxes or enhancing property tax rebates, Murphy said there was no news to report, but that budget talks with the state’s legislative leadership have been “constructive and productive.” He added, “If we could find a way to [enhance] the Homestead Rebate [program], count me in for things like that.”
Murphy was then asked what he thought about US Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s idea of using ARP stimulus money to provide the unemployed with $500 bonuses if they return to work by Aug. 1.
The governor responded that it was a “good idea, but we want to make sure we … spend the [ARP] money responsibly; make sure we spend it over a period of years; make sure we get a good budget; and get the federal money in a good place.”
Murphy did say there is a “dislocation in the labor market,” and it is due to different reasons: Those out of work who are receiving the extra $300 in temporary weekly unemployment benefits; the lack of consistency or the inability of parents in finding childcare while hybrid learning continues until the end of the school year; and people who have left the workforce and are now trying to step up to another level of pay or required skills.
“You also have an element of folks getting used to working in a remote mode, in some form or fashion. So, it’s a combination of whole lot of things,” Murphy said.
Asked what he thinks a level of normalcy is and when the state would achieve it, Murphy said he would measure it in a “non-medical manner through a level of normalcy in our lives. That would include things like not needing to do these [briefings] as frequently, children being back at school Monday through Friday without masks; and having our state offices and other government and private-sector offices populated with folks.”
He added [COVID] will stay in our midst at some low level, similar to the flu. “So, you are never completely out of the woods, but you are back to normal,” Murphy said.
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