The Winter Termination Program – sometimes known as the “winter moratorium” – began today, November 15. It is a regulation issued by the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and prohibits utility companies from shutting off electric or gas service to certain low income customers.
The following is part of a Customer’s Bill or Rights found on the BPU website. It reads as follows: “Winter Termination Program – If you are an elderly or low income customer having financial problems paying your bill you should request the company to enroll you in a budget plan in accordance with your ability to pay. You are required to make good faith payments of all reasonable bills for service and in return are assured of the right to have gas and electric utilities service from November 15, to March 15 without fear of termination of such service.”
Customers who receive any of the following public benefit programs are protected against utility shutoffs: Lifeline, PAAD, LIHEAP, USF, TANF, GA, SSI, or persons unable to pay their bill due to circumstances beyond their control. A person can request to be placed under “WTP protection” if they are in any of these categories by contacting their utility company. To take advantage of the WTP a customer should make “good faith” payments, enroll in an affordable payment plan, and apply for energy assistance benefits.
Additional information is available on the New Jersey Community Resources website on the following web pages: Winter Termination Program, NJ Energy Assistance Programs, and Avoiding NJ Utility Shutoffs.
Households who require the intervention from others should contact the Board’s Division of Customer Assistance at 800-624-0241, or Legal Services of New Jersey at 888-LSNJ-LAW (888-576-5529).
The energy assistance season is half over and funds are still available to households who qualify. Due to good planning and the allocation of extra resources more households will be eligible than ever before. Due to an increased funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) last fall by Congress, the state of New Jersey was able to increase LIHEAP income limits to 225% of the federal poverty index up from 175%. Tens of thousands of additional households may qualify.
Due to the emergence of what some call a “perfect storm” additional state funds were also appropriated to help those households who are above the guidelines for regular energy assistance. The state legislature recently passed a bill, recommended by Governor Corzine, allocating $10 million to the statewide nonprofit New Jersey SHARES. These funds will be disbursed via SHARES’ extensive network of social agencies. Recently NJ SHARES announced a change in their eligibility policy by capping aid to households with incomes to 400% of the federal poverty index. Exceptions were made for seniors and the disabled who qualify for the recently expanded property tax relief program, often referred to as the Senior Freeze program. For the first time in their 10 year history SHARES is offering help to households that heat with deliverable fuels, i.e. oil or propane. Spread the word.
Applications for LIHEAP and the Universal Service Fund (USF) programs are available online, although the information has recently been moved by state officials. The Department of Community Affairs’ energy assistance program webpage is now located at http://www.state.nj.us/dca/divisions/dhcr/offices/eap.html. Please pass the word.
Local LIHEAP agencies continue to be inundated with both applications and telephone calls. To relieve their workload it is recommended that applicants call state hotline numbers rather than their local agency for information or questions on the status of pending applications.
State hotline numbers include: LIHEAP – 800-510-3102; USF – 866-240-1347; NJ SHARES – 866-657-4273.
Information on all energy assistance programs is available on the New Jersey Community Resources website at http://www.njcommunityresources.info/njliheap.html.