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) – www.bpu.state.nj.us – 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 www.bpu.state.nj.us/bpu/assistance/programs/. A full list of the protected categories under the WTP can be found at www.njcommunityresources.info/wtp.html.

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 www.state.nj.us/dca/divisions/dhcr/forms/docs/wealist.doc or telephone 866-551-7165. It is available to households earning less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Index.

Comfort Partners. Visit www.njcleanenergy.com/residential/programs/comfort-partners/comfort-partners or telephone 888-773-8326.

Energy Savers Booklet published by the U.S. Department of Energy is available online at www.energysavers.gov/pdfs/energy_savers.pdf.

Many utility company websites – see www.njcommunityresources.info/nj.html#utilities – provide information if you search under ‘energy conservation’ or ‘weatherization’.

Energy Assistance Tips

The application period to apply for home heating assistance is now half over as the application period is November 1 through April 30, 2010. There have been a few things that should have been presented earlier but better late than never. Let me try to keep this short and to the point. Here are a few things you probably didn’t know.

1. Instead of calling the local application agency to inquire about a LIHEAP application (for example in Union County the local agency is PROCEED) there is a statewide LIHEAP hotline number that applicants and food stamp clients can call instead of calling the local agency which just makes them take time out from processing hundreds of applications. The hotline number – which by the way is open on SATURDAY’s – is 800-510-3102.
2. USF portability is probably a term you never heard about. Portable can be defined as carried or moved with ease. In energy assistance terms, when a utility customer who is receiving USF benefits moves to a new address, their USF eligibility can be re-evaluated by a phone call to the utility. The customer tells the customer service rep they are receiving USF benefits but they are moving to a new address. The company will evaluate the energy usage at the new address and then the state of New Jersey will determine eligibility for USF at their new location. A simple phone call. Portability.
3. Every year the staff at NJ211 compile an energy guide. The 36 page 2009-2010 publication titled New Jersey Guide to Meeting Basic Utility Needs gives useful information on programs and agencies.

You can also access the New Jersey Community Resources energy assistance programs webpage which contains an eligibility chart of various programs and links to forms. If you have other useful energy assistance tips or information let me know.

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.