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.

Dreams Do Come True

On December 13, 1992 I wished there was someplace to refer families when no other resources were available to help with energy bills. Little did I know then that it would lead to the creation of New Jersey SHARES, a statewide energy nonprofit organization.

Today, I need your help to keep my dream alive and to help New Jersey families stay warm. On February 1 & 2, 2018 NJ SHARES will be holding an event “Cool Down for Warmth” to both raise funds and to make our mission better known in our state of New Jersey.

We’re building an Ice House – yes, an ICE HOUSE – in Newark to highlight the critical importance of heat during the cold winter months.

You can help by making a donation. The average grant needed to restore/maintain utility service is about $400. Your donation makes a difference and may be eligible to be matched dollar for dollar by your utility company. So if you can give $50, it will have the impact of $100.

Read my personal story then visit my fundraising page, New Jersey SHARES Ice House Challenge. Thank you.

For more information on becoming involved, visit NJ SHARES Cool Down for Warmth Fundraising page.

NJ SHARES Night With The New Jersey Devils

Save the date… The next NJ SHARES Night with the New Jersey Devils is January 20, 2017. The New Jersey Devils will once again ‘Share the Warmth’ as they take the ice on Friday, January 20th at 7:30 pm against the Montreal Canadiens, by offering DISCOUNTED stadium tickets to our supporters with proceeds benefiting NJ SHARES! Come support NJ SHARES as the Community Assist Partner of the Night.

  • Group Seating at the Game
  • Discounted Group Ticket
  • Group Welcome on the Scoreboard
  • Group Gift for Everyone in Attendance

To Order Tickets, please visit: www.newjerseydevils.com/njshares17 – Promo Code: njshares17.

If you experience technical problems with the discount code or need printable tickets, please call Joshua Malakoff at 973-757-6162. Download the PDF for ticket pricing and details. Note: The promo code is not compatible with Internet Explorer, so please use other browsers such as Chrome or Firefox.

(For purposes of identification, the notice above appeared in the NJ SHARES newsletter.)

Energy Assistance Information

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.