New Jersey customers who are behind on certain utility bills no longer have to worry about a Dec. 31 deadline for potential shutoff.

A bill signed into law on Tuesday by Gov. Phil Murphy extends the grace period for all water, municipal electric, and sewer customers to Mar. 15, 2022.

NOTE: Gas and private electric utilities can still start the shutoff process on Jan. 1. Check here for your options, and to see what utilities plan to do in the new year.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many of our New Jersey families who are working hard to get their finances in order after a particularly difficult two years," Murphy said. "Through our extension of the utility shutoff grace period, we are giving customers an additional opportunity to work with their utility provider to enroll in an equitable payment option that ensures their critical, and in some cases life-preserving, services remain in operation."

The law also requires the state's Winter Termination Program, which each year blocks certain customers' electric and gas from being disconnected from Nov. 15 through Mar. 15, to be extended to include water and sewer public utilities, and orders the Department of Community Affairs to establish a Winter Termination Program that would also include electric municipal utilities and local authorities.

Primary sponsors of the legislation include Nilsa Cruz-Perez and Shirley Turner in the Senate, and Assemblywomen Annette Quijano and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson.

"This law will give people more time to make utility payments and will allow families to focus on everyday decisions without having to worry about their water shutting off," said Quijano, D-Union. "Having reliable utility services is a necessity for every New Jersey resident."

In addition, the law extends the payment plan provisions spelled out in Murphy's executive order from June. All utilities will be required to offer a 12-month, no down payment, interest-free payment plan to customers for unpaid balances recorded through Mar. 15 of next year, prior to disconnecting service or imposing liens for non-payment.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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