TRENTON, NJ – The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) and the Department of Community Affairs today announced new and expanded efforts to provide financial assistance for New Jersey residents with utility bill arrearages as part of “Utility Assistance Week,” October 18 – 22, 2021.
“New Jersey is taking many steps to help ensure that residents are not left out in the cold this winter, but we want people to know that expanded utility help is available from the State,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. “We are spreading the word this week that due to the pandemic, eligibility has been expanded to help more families in need. Even if you weren’t eligible before, we urge you to apply for help now.”
“Many people throughout New Jersey continue to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic which resulted in job loss and job insecurity, particularly in overburdened and underserved communities,” said Joseph L. Fiordaliso, NJBPU President. “As a result of this economic impact, utility bill arrearages have grown to historic levels with hundreds of thousands of customers unable to meet monthly utility bill obligations.”
On October 18, NJBPU, the DCA, and the State’s regulated utilities began amplifying promotion of their assistance and deferred payment programs to reach customers who may not be aware that assistance for past-due utility bills is available.
The grace period on utility shut offs ends on December 31, 2021, after which your utilities can be disconnected for non-payment. It is critical that anyone with outstanding balances apply for utility assistance programs now.
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During Utility Assistance Week, NJBPU and DCA will be highlighting assistance programs across the state at several events including a virtual Utility Summit for non-profits, faith-based, civic, and other organizations to alert people to the December 31 deadline and to encourage people to apply for assistance.
Also, NJBPU has temporarily expanded its USF Program to moderate-income families so that households who encountered a financial setback during the pandemic can receive assistance. For example, a family of four can make up to $106,000 per year and qualify for the program. USF provides not only monthly credits on electric and gas bills, but also a pathway to energy debt forgiveness through the USF-Fresh Start Program.
DCA’s LIHEAP program’s income eligibility criteria changed from 200% of the Federal Poverty Level to 60% of the State Median Income, resulting in an increase of the income threshold for a family of four from $4,039.00 gross monthly income to $6,439.00 gross monthly income.
It is believed that with these changes, more households will qualify and receive assistance from both programs.
Additionally, last week the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) mailed out letters to approximately 350,000 households with overdue electric and natural gas bills to notify them that they are potentially eligible for assistance to pay their utility arrearages. The Department urges people who receive a letter to act quickly and immediately apply for help since the assistance is available for a limited time only.
Through Utility Assistance Week our collective aim is to ensure anyone behind on their bills can find the help they need through our many assistance programs:
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a federal program that helps households at or below 60% of the State Median Income ($77,272 for a family of four) pay for:
- Heating costs (electric, gas, deliverable fuels, and those included in rent);
- Emergency grants to prevent service shut-offs;
- Energy debt forgiveness through the American Rescue Plan; and
- Medically-necessary cooling expenses in summertime.
- More information available at: www.energyassistance.nj.gov
Universal Service Fund (USF) provides a monthly credit of up to $180 per month on electric and gas bills for households at or below 400% of the Federal Poverty Level ($106,000 for a family of four):
- USF covers energy costs over a certain percentage of income (depending on heat source) up to a cap of $2,160 per year.
The USF-Fresh Start program provides unlimited forgiveness of overdue electric and or gas bill balances for any USF participant with an overdue balance of $60 or more:
- Fresh Start customers need to pay their current bills in full each month for 12 consecutive months to earn full forgiveness on preexisting overdue balances.
- USF customers with a past due balance of $60 are automatically enrolled into Fresh Start by their utility company if they are eligible.
- Fresh Start is administered by the utility companies. If you are enrolled you will receive letters in the mail from your utility company about Fresh Start. Call your utility company at the number on your bill for more information.
- If you have a complaint about the Fresh Start program that your utility company cannot resolve call NJBPU at 800-624-0241.
To apply for USF & LIHEAP:
Apply online at: https://njdca-housing/dynamics365portals.us/en-US/dcaid-services/
Call 2-1-1 to reach the USF/LIHEAP hotline 24/7 (translation service is available).
Find more information about the programs at the following websites:
Note: Customers are automatically screened into USF and LIHEAP from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and from the NJ Lifeline Utility Assistance Program.
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 $128,786 for a family of four):
- Households that are income-eligible for USF should apply for USF first before seeking additional aid from PAGE.
- Households must have an overdue balance of at least $100 and should not have $15,000 or more in liquid assets.
- PAGE grants can reduce balances, help restore service, pay for security deposits or reconnection fees.
- Go to njpoweron.org to self-screen for eligibility, apply online or call toll free 732-982-8710.
Lifeline Utility Assistance Program provides an annual $225 grant for electric and gas costs to seniors and the disabled:
- The grant appears as a credit on a utility bill, a check for renters who have electric or gas costs included in their rent, or may be included in a recipient’s Supplemental Security Income check.
- Income limits are set at less than $28,769 for a single person or at $35,270 if married.
- Income limits will be increased by $10,000 on January 1, 2022.
- Apply with the NJSave application at aging.nj.gov or call the hotline at 1-800-792-9745.
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 866-657-4273. These programs are utility-sponsored and are not affiliated with NJBPU or DCA.
NJBPU’s Division of Customer Assistance:
NJBPU’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 NJBPU’s social media channels. Residential customers in need can reach out to NJBPU’s Customer Assistance Hotline at 1-800-624-0241 from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., or through our website at www.nj.gov/bpu.
NJBPU is a state agency and regulatory authority mandated to ensure safe, adequate and proper utility services at reasonable rates for New Jersey customers. Critical services regulated by NJBPU include natural gas, electricity, water, wastewater, telecommunications and cable television. The Board has general oversight and responsibility for monitoring utility service, responding to consumer complaints, and investigating utility accidents. To find out more about NJBPU, visit our website at www.nj.gov/bpu. DCA offers a wide range of programs and services, including local government management and finance, affordable housing production, fire safety, building safety, community planning and development, and disaster recovery and mitigation.