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’.