NJ SHARES Op-Ed

New Jersey residents shouldn’t have to pick between paying for medicine or their energy bill

By Cheryl Stowell

As New Jersey begins the process of re-opening due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are starting to recognize the unavoidable economic challenges many of our residents will undoubtedly face. In addition to being a major public health threat, the coronavirus has brought an unprecedented economic crisis and recession, wreaking havoc on all parts of the state. Data released by the New Jersey Department of Labor shows that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 1.4 million jobless claims have been filed and the state’s unemployment rate has reached historic levels of 16.2%.

In these uncertain, unstable times, it is critically important that individuals and families experiencing financial difficulties have the appropriate resources they can turn to in their times of need.

It has long been recognized that low- and moderate-income communities struggle disproportionately in dealing with energy costs. According to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Residential Consumption Survey, one in three U.S. households face challenges when paying energy bills or adequately heating or cooling their homes. One in five forgo necessities like food and medicine to pay energy bills, forcing difficult tradeoffs that impact the household’s well-being.

The decisions made by New Jersey’s regulated utilities placing moratoriums on the suspension of utility services and collections of utility bill payments have been critically helpful for our residents. However, utility bill debt continues to mount for some, leaving them with difficult decisions about cooling their homes, purchasing medication, or even putting food on their tables.

With a mission of helping low- to moderate-income households address their energy insecurity issues during times of emergency or crisis, New Jersey SHARES (NJ SHARES) was established 22 years ago to provide statewide help and referral for essential services to those in temporary need of assistance. Our organization has helped keep the power on for more than 187,000 New Jersey households, granting more than $75 million in energy assistance.

Now, the cries for help are louder than ever.

With New Jersey’s tremendous budget deficit, our state’s leaders face enormous economic challenges. These challenges will only be amplified once moratoriums are lifted and utility customers are faced with staggering arrearages. Financial insecurities will also be exacerbated by mounting utility bill debt and the threat of disconnection.

We all must work together to ease the burden on New Jersey residents who have been hardest hit by the pandemic and find creative paths toward the resources required to aid in our collective recovery. NJ SHARES is committed to doing its part in these efforts.

As a nonprofit operating during difficult times, NJ SHARES is also facing our own challenges due to COVID-19 but remains firmly dedicated to assisting residents in need. We continue to identify critical funding sources and aggressively pursue them while utilizing existing funds to help those facing temporary hardships. Additionally, we look toward the on-going support of corporations and the generosity of individuals who help us Offer Hope and Deliver Help.

To quote Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” The staff at NJ SHARES will continue to do what we can to help our fellow New Jerseyans struggling with temporary hardships in paying their utility bills. Every little bit helps.

Cheryl Stowell is the president and CEO of NJ SHARES. The above opinion article appeared in the July 27, 2020 edition of nj.com.

Disclaimer: I am a founding member of NJ SHARES. Please donate what you can.

How Non-Filers Can Get Their Federal Stimulus Check

Millions of families are missing out on a $1200 or $2400 federal stimulus check, officially known as an Economic Impact Payment, because they did not file a tax return with the Internal Revenue Service. According to a report issued by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “About 12 million Americans risk missing out on the stimulus payments provided through the recent CARES Act because they must file a form by October 15 to receive it.”

Households may still be eligible for payments under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). To claim the payment non-tax filers must complete a “Non-Filers: Enter Your Payment Info Here” application and provide simple information. Issuance of Economic Impact Payments do not affect various social benefit programs, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid. The stimulus payment is a tax credit and does not count against social programs or as a Public Charge.

It is estimated there are 725,00 adults and children in New Jersey and Pennsylvania alone who missed receiving automatic payments, totaling $725 million.

According to IRS, the following may be eligible for the Economic Impact Payment: U.S. citizens, permanent residents and qualifying resident aliens who:

  • Have a valid Social Security number,
  • Could not be claimed as a dependent of another taxpayer, and
  • Had adjusted gross income under certain limits.

To apply use the IRS Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here tool if you are not required to file a federal income tax return for 2019 for any reason, including:

  • Your income is less than $12,200
  • You’re married filing jointly and together your income is less than $24,400
  • You have no income

Information you will be required to provide includes: full name, current mailing address, an email address, dates of birth and valid Social Security numbers, bank account and routing number, if you have one, driver’s license or state-issued ID, if you have one. To provide the required information individuals must create an account with IRS, providing their email address, phone number and establish a user ID and password.

Additional information is available on a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, titled, “Aggressive State Outreach Can Help Reach the 12 Million Non-Filers Eligible for Stimulus Payments.”

The deadline to apply is October 15, 2020.

Faith Group Seeks Voter Registration Organizer

The Unitarian Universalist Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network (UUPLAN) , a statewide advocacy network whose mission is pursuing justice by voting, advocating and making just public policies, is seeking to hire a part-time voter registration Organizer for their Pennsylvania UU the Vote Campaign.

PA UU the Vote, is a non-partisan faith initiative, in partnership with broader justice movements, to engage neighbors, educate our communities, mobilize voters, and rally around key ballot initiatives. It is part of the larger nationwide Unitarian Universalist Association.

According to the job description, UUPLAN “seeks to retain a part-time, consulting Organizer to work with Unitarian Universalist congregations to increase voter participation in Pennsylvania, particularly in communities negatively affected by voter suppression, for the November 3, 2020 general election (“the Project”). The Organizer will be joining a team of lay and clergy leaders in congregations across Pennsylvania and nearby states who have spent the past six months building a network of engaged volunteers ready to ramp up their civic engagement activities.”

Interested candidates are urged to submit a resume and cover letter as soon as possible to Reverend Joan Sabatino, Director UUPLAN Education Fund, via email: director@uuplan.org. Provide appropriate descriptions of experience, skills and knowledge. Provide three references. It is the intent of the UPEF to select and retain an Organizer as soon as possible.

Please feel free to distribute the full voter registration Organizer job description to your networks or post to social media.

PA Register to Vote Flyer

At the eulogy for George Floyd we were reminded our movement won’t rest. We will continue to fight on until there is justice. To those who have marched and protested around our country and throughout the world, thank you.

For more than a year a number of us have been working hard to register voters in Philadelphia. A few months ago a group coalesced to become the Philly Voter Engagement Network, meeting on a weekly basis to promote voter registration and voter engagement. My contribution this past Friday was the development of a Register to Vote flyer. Feel free to post it in your community, share with organizations and networks.

The flyer was created for these COVID-19 times. A person can scan the QR Code with their smartphone and fill out the PA Department of State’s PA online voter registration form. Another QR Code (QR is short for quick response, created by a company, Denso Wave) links a prospective or a re-registering voter to a page for printing a hard copy voter registration application form.

The register to vote flyer will be an effective tool for registering or updating a voter registration record under the following conditions:

  • Attached to a sign while in public spaces
  • Attending protest marches, rallies or vigils
  • At other socially-distanced events
  • Placing on community bulletin boards
  • Displaying in local shop windows

Feel free to copy, distribute and reproduce this flyer. Share it with your network.

Together, we know our voices can be heard. Be safe. Be a voter.