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.

Author: Michael Swayze

Former county welfare agency administrator, using a combination of social work and computer skills to share information about community resources via the Internet. Online since 1995.