The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) announced that May 17-21 is “Utility Assistance Week,” dedicated to increasing residents’ awareness of the various programs available to support those who have fallen behind on their utility bills and may be newly eligible for financial assistance. BPU, DCA and the state’s regulated utilities will be amplifying promotion of their assistance and deferred payment programs to reach customers who may not be aware assistance for past-due utility bills is available.
“COVID-19 hit our state hard and many residents suddenly found themselves struggling to pay bills, including their electricity, gas, or water bills,” said BPU President Joseph L. Fiordaliso. “We made sure that nobody’s power was turned off, but we know that some New Jerseyans are now facing past-due bills and may not know that help is available. Well, help is available – payment assistance and deferred payment programs are here to support people who may be newly eligible because COVID impacted their finances.”
“This unprecedented crisis in New Jersey has resulted in widespread loss of employment and diminished pay for many residents. As we officially observe Utility Assistance Week in New Jersey, Governor Murphy and I and our partners at BPU want people to know that help is available,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as DCA Commissioner. “If you need help paying your energy bills or arrearages please do not wait until the moratorium on shut-offs is lifted – apply for help now.”
When COVID-19 struck, BPU and New Jersey’s regulated water, gas, and electric utility companies swiftly agreed to a voluntary moratorium on shut-offs to both residential and commercial customers during this unprecedented situation. Gov. Phil Murphy’s Executive Order No. 190 subsequently extended the moratorium until March 15, 2021 and then again until June 30, 2021 for residential gas, electric, and water utility customers, as well as internet service for households with school-aged children. With the moratorium expiring on June 30, 2021 it is critical that anyone with outstanding balances apply for utility assistance programs now to lower their balances and also contact their utility company to request a Deferred Payment Agreement (DPA). Utilities are offering payment arrangements for up to 24 months with no money down until June 30, 2021.
BPU and DCA have been working with the utilities to promote assistance and deferred payment programs for customers who have been struggling to pay their bills, but the total past due as of March 31, 2021 is still approximately $650 million.
Through Utility Assistance Week our collective aim is to ensure anyone behind on their bills knows about all of the different customer assistance programs:
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a federal program that helps households at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level ($52,400 for a family of four) pay for:
Universal Service Fund (USF) provides a monthly credit on electric and gas bills for households at or below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level ($48,470 for a family of four):
Payment Assistance for Gas and Electric (PAGE) provides electric and/or gas grants of up to $700 to customers with overdue balances. Households from zero income up to the state median income are eligible (income up to $123,430 for a family of four):
The Fresh Start program provides unlimited forgiveness of overdue electric and or gas bill balances for first-time USF participants:
Lifeline Utility Assistance Program provides an annual $225 grant for electric and gas costs to seniors and the disabled:
New Jersey American Water Company, Aqua NJ, and SUEZ New Jersey:
Customers of these investor-owned water companies can apply for grants with the nonprofit New Jersey SHARES at www.njshares.org or by calling 609-883-1626. These programs are utility-sponsored and are not affiliated with BPU or DCA.
BPU’s Division of Customer Assistance:
BPU’s Division of Customer Assistance investigates consumer complaints, negotiates fair payment arrangements on behalf of customers, and can prevent utility service shut-offs. The Division can also make Spanish-language resources available to residents, including updates about utility assistance programs in Spanish on BPU’s social media channels.
Residential customers in need can reach out to BPU’s Customer Assistance Hotline at 1-800-624-0241 from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., or through their website at www.nj.gov/bpu.
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