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.

Welcome Afghan Families

Refugees from war-torn Afghanistan are arriving at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in South Jersey, one of four military installations. While families will have their immediate needs met while at these facilities, it will take coordinated effort to put their lives back in order.

Public-private partnerships have long existed to help refugees resettle and build new lives. It is not a government-only effort. Below is a very short list of nonprofit organizations in the area that will be assisting the new arrivals. Please consider making a donation – cash, furnishings, or volunteer time. If you know of other nonprofits active in refugee resettlement, please send your comments.

These and other nonprofit organizations work to integrate refugees in our communities, helping to provide the linkages to housing, furniture, job training, employment, etc.

Give what you can.

Child Tax Credit (CTC)

The one-year expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) in the American Rescue Plan is perhaps the most far-reaching piece of family centered legislation to pass Congress in decades as it cuts child poverty by more than 40%. It creates monthly payments for nearly all working families. The purpose of this article is to help explain various aspects of the tax credit and provide links to families who have yet to receive payments.

Most families will receive monthly payments of either $250 per child ages 6 – 17 or $300 per child under age 6, starting July 15, 2021. Families will get the remaining money when they file their federal income tax return in 2022. It is estimated that about 90% of families with children will get this new tax relief automatically. IRS has planned distribution dates for the CTC checks for July 15, August 13, September 15, October 15, November 15, and December 15.

People who did not file either a 2019 or 2020 federal income tax form, or claim an Economic Impact Payment or Recovery Rebate Credit (stimulus checks) can use the IRS Child Tax Credit Non-filer Sign-up Tool to receive advance CTC payments. The tool or portal is available to help non tax-filers, low-income families, and other underserved groups. It was set up for people who typically don’t file tax returns.

A question often raised is whether the CTC will affect other government benefits (like SSI, SNAP, TANF, or WIC)? The answer, per the White House CTC page, reads: “No. Receiving Child Tax Credit payments is not considered income for any family.Therefore, it will not change the amount you receive in other Federal benefits. These Federal benefits include unemployment insurance, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, SSDI, TANF, WIC, Section 8, or Public Housing.”

The new maximum child tax credit is available to taxpayers with a modified adjusted gross income (AGI) of:

  • $75,000 or less for singles,
  • $112,500 or less for heads of household, and
  • $150,000 or less for married couples filing a joint return and qualified widows and widowers.

There is also a CTC Update Portal which can be used to: check if you’re enrolled to receive advance payments, provide or update bank account information, and to unenroll and stop getting monthly advance payments.

For more information visit:

Download the Child Tax Credit Explainer (PDF).

IRS’ Advance Child Tax Credit Payments in 2021 page.

IRS’ CTC Non-filer Sign-up Tool.

IRS’ CTC Update Portal.

Get Your Child Tax Credit – a nonprofit’s page.

2021 CTC Outreach Resources – by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.