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.