2021 New Jersey Utility Assistance Summit

About two weeks ago a group of New Jersey utility companies, working with state officials and nonprofits, held an online forum for the purpose of “connecting community partners with payment assistance programs.”

For those community partners who were unable to attend and for others, the organizers have released the official Utility Assistance Summit presentation. Click here to download the PDF file. It is a useful tool for other energy advocates, County Welfare Agencies, nonprofits, local government officials, and of course energy consumers in New Jersey.

Remarks were given by Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver and Joseph Fiordaliso, President of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. Presentations were given by the Department of Community Affairs, Division of Aging Services, Board of Public Utilities, Affordable Housing Alliance, and New Jersey SHARES.

The downloadable presentation provides detailed information on many vital energy assistance and senior programs, covering the following programs:

  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP)
  • Universal Service Fund (USF)
  • Fresh Start
  • Winter Termination Program
  • PAGE
  • Communications Lifeline
  • Local New Jersey water programs
  • NJSave
  • Lifeline Utility Assistance Program
  • Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PAAD)
  • Senior Gold Prescription Discount Program
  • Hearing Aid Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (HAAAD)
  • NJ Hearing Aid Project
  • SLMB and SLMB QI-1

For addditional information on the senior programs, see the Division of Aging Services Program Guide. See blog posts dated October 5, and October 21 for related articles. Links to the programs mentioned at the Utility Assistance Summit can be found in the NJ Energy Programs page and the Public Benefits Corner of the NJ Community Resources page, all here on this website.

New Jersey Launches Statewide Effort to Reach Customers in Need of Financial Assistance with their Utility Bill

The following is a press release issued by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, following an Energy Outreach Utility Assistance Summit in which Joseph Fiordaliso, NJBPU President, stated, “Programs are in place for those who need assistance. Get the word out.”

Trenton, N.J.—October 19, 2021—The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) and the Department of Community Affairs 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.    

“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.” 

“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.”  

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.  

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: 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:

www.energyassistance.nj.gov

www.nj.gov/dca/dcaid

www.nj.gov/bpu

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 https://njdoas-ua.force.com/njsave/quickstart 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

Note: Additional information is available on this website on the NJ Energy Programs page.

Major Enhancements to Energy Safety Net

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, federal and state officials have greatly increased the energy safety net. New Jersey has vastly expanded who will qualify for state energy programs.

The purpose of this article is to detail the many changes for energy assistance in New Jersey. There are a number of very good websites, see below, with detailed information on energy aid, but none drive home the changes of a changed landscape, all done in an effort to help as many New Jersey families as possible.

Major changes to the energy safety net include:

  • Increasing the LIHEAP income limits so more will qualify. Effective October 1, 2021, the monthly income limits for a household of four is $6,439. Last heating season, the limit for a family of four was only $4,039 per month.
  • Increasing Universal Service Fund (USF) income limits from 185% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to 400% FPL. For example, last year the gross income limit -pretax dollars – for a household of four was $4,039 per month. Effective October 1,2021, a family of four could qualify will a month income of $8,833. A family of four could now qualify with a yearly income of $106,000.
  • The Lifeline Utility Assistance program will increase its income limits starting January, 2022 by $10,000. This is a state program for seniors and the disabled to assist with electric and gas. The income limit in 2022 will be $38,769 for a single person and $45,270, for a couple.
  • Governor Murphy announced in June a six-month grace period on utility shutoffs until December 31, 2021. The purpose of the grace period, as the extended shutoff moratorium had ended, was for “allowing a reasonable period of time during which individuals are protected while they try to address arrearages, including by applying to utility assistance programs.” The complete text appears in his Executive Order No. 246. Take the opportunity to apply for energy safety net programs in these next few months.
  • An updated Bill of Rights has been established by the Board of Public Utilities for all utility customers. Some of the changes will expire December 31, 2021.
  • Changes to the USF program which provides monthly credits to utility bills by: 1) increasing the maximum monthly credit from $150 to $180; 2) reducing the “energy affordability threshold” previously referred to as the “energy burden” so additional households qualify. For details, see Board of Public Utilities’ June 24, 2021 press release.
  • Modifying the Fresh Start component of the USF program, so any customer with an overdue balance of $60 or more will be enrolled in this arrearage forgiveness program. Customers who pay their entire bill for a twelve month period will have their arrears entirely forgiven. (Return to normal USF and Fresh Start requirements will resume October 1, 2023.) Fresh Start is administered by the utility companies which send out letters of acceptance into the program. Contact your utility company for details.
  • DCAid is an online screening tool to check to see what benefits you may qualify for. You could then complete an online application, using their USF/LIHEAP Online Application Portal.

Other valuable energy assistance pages are: my NJ Energy Programs page, including an income guidelines chart of six energy assistance programs; the Utility Assistance Programs page of NJ 2-1-1 Partnership; and the Utility Assistance Programs page of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

The energy safety net has been greatly enhanced. Take advantage of the opportunity.