Energy Tips: How To Navigate The System To Get Help

It seems this will be a hard winter. Unemployment still high, colder than average temperatures in the state, delayed energy funding etc etc etc. If you work in a social service agency and need to provide the public with helpful information then read the tips below. It may help your client navigate the system a little easier.

If you have applied for LIHEAP and/or USF via your local intake agency and your case is still pending, you can obtain quick information on the status of your case by calling the LIHEAP/USF Hotline at 800-510-3102. They are open from Monday through Saturday from 8am to 5pm. Yes, even Saturday. You do not have to call the agency that is processing your application to get up-to-date information. In fact, by calling the hotline you free up the local agency to process applications rather than answering phone inquires.

If you receive a Universal Service Fund (USF) credit but you move, you should call the utility company and tell them you want to have your USF transferred to your new address. They will then recalculate your energy usage and have the state make a determination as how much of a credit you may be eligible for at the new address. USF benefits won’t automatically follow you to your new address. As a USF customer you have to call them and ask to have your USF credit transferred. This feature of the USF is called Portability.

Case Name vs. Customer Name. Some customers when shutoff resort to having the service turned on in another person’s name – friend, family member, etc. However, doing so eliminates the likelihood of getting assistance from either welfare or through the Universal Service Fund program. If you have a bill problem seek help. Don’t compound the problem.

When you are talking to a customer service representative at a utility company, remember to write down the name of the person you spoke to. Often they will type notes into their computer system but not always. You should write down what was said and who you spoke to. The same holds true when calling a social service agency.

The Winter Termination Program (WTP) protects certain households against a utility shutoff during the winter. The Board of Public Utilities (BPU) – – advises the following, “Those enrolled in specific programs (such as SSI, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, USF and Lifeline) are protected by WTP, and an additional “catch-all” category is included for people unable to pay their utility bills because of circumstances beyond their control such as unemployment or illness.” This is found on the BPU website at A full list of the protected categories under the WTP can be found at

It is the customer’s responsibility to let the utility company know they are WTP protected.

“Circumstances beyond their control” is a key phrase which could help thousands prevent a shutoff, if you know your rights as a utility customer or read the bill message insert when you get a shutoff notice. You can request protection under the WTP by calling the utility company or if that fails by calling the BPU Customer Assistance hotline at 800-624-0241.

A bill will be estimated if the utility is unable to get a true reading. If your bill has been estimated for more than one month it is in your best interest to read the meter and call it in or to arrange for meter reader access. Most utility company websites have information about how to read the meter. Look at your bill to know when the next reading will occur. It is difficult to make an arrangement on a back bill if it has been estimated for a number of months.

Bill assistance is not the only answer. Energy conservation will reduce consumption and lower your monthly bill. A few websites and programs to inquire about include:

Weatherization Assistance Program. A downloadable list is available at or telephone 866-551-7165. It is available to households earning less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Index.

Comfort Partners. Visit or telephone 888-773-8326.

Energy Savers Booklet published by the U.S. Department of Energy is available online at

Many utility company websites – see – provide information if you search under ‘energy conservation’ or ‘weatherization’.

A Bad Storm Forming For Energy Consumers

The large ranks of New Jersey’s unemployed face a difficult winter based on the programs currently available to assist energy consumers. In recent years Washington and Trenton responded to what has been called the Great Recession. However, this winter the response has been less than expected. New Jersey has a number of programs to help meet the energy needs of low income customers and the thousands out of work. These programs – LIHEAP in particular – face a difficult year.

LIHEAP stands for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program which is 100% federally funded. Last year it was funded at $5.1 billion. Under the current Congressional Continuing Resolution – scheduled to run out December 3 – LIHEAP is funded at $3.3 billion. As a result, New Jersey policymakers have taken the following actions:
1) Reduced eligibility guidelines from 225% of the Federal Poverty Index to 200%. This will result in tens of thousands households not eligible this year, even if they have the same household income as last year.
2) LIHEAP benefits in New Jersey have been reduced 20% across-the-board.
3) Emergency benefits – including those heating by oil – will be reduced to $450. This is not even enough to order a 200 gallon minimum delivery.
4) Funds intended for non-LIHEAP eligible families via New Jersey SHARES, originally expected last July are still being held up.

Heating oil prices are currently 36 cents higher than a year ago according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Heating Oil and Propane Update website. A recent price of residential heating oil in New Jersey was $3.18 a gallon, according to the executive director of the New Jersey Fuel Merchants Association.

In terms of weather forecasts, the Farmer’s Almanac predicts the eastern third of the United States will face colder than normal winter temperatures. While I don’t regularly buy a copy of the Almanac or have a vested interest in it, you can read about their long range winter forecast.

Households who are above the LIHEAP income guidelines may be able to get help from the statewide nonprofit New Jersey SHARES, assuming they receive long awaited funding. A bill, S3064 , signed into law in January, 2010 was to provide $25 million to New Jersey SHARES beginning in July, 2010. The funding has been held up due to political and administrative delays, even though many families have their utilities shut-off or uncertain where they will find money to pay for fuel. The Board of Public Utilities currently is holding the purse strings and recently issued an announcement about future funding. You can read their recent press release .

If you are above the LIHEAP income guidelines but hope to get help from New Jersey SHARES, you should first contact your utility company and request to be placed in a protected category under the Winter Termination Program rules. If unsuccessful, contact the Board of Public Utility’s Division of Customer Assistance at 800-624-0241.

Households that are applying for LIHEAP benefits – or inquiring about the status of their LIHEAP and/or USF application – should contact the LIHEAP Hotline at 800-510-3102. The Hotline is well staffed and able to handle calls Monday through Saturday from 8am to 5pm. It is suggested calls be made to this call center rather than to the local application agency.

For more information on energy assistance programs visit the New Jersey Community Resources’ NJ energy page.