When the pandemic first began two years ago and many New Jersey residents abruptly lost their jobs Gov. Phil Murphy announced a moratorium on electric and gas companies shutting off their service because of non-payment.

After months of warnings and an extension, that moratorium officially ended on Tuesday, and now hundreds of thousands of people in all parts of the state are getting urgent disconnection notices, and in some cases, their electricity has already been turned off.

According to PSE&G spokesperson Rebecca Mazzarella, 275,000 customers are at risk of having their electric or natural gas service disconnected if they don’t respond to repeated efforts to work out a flexible payment arrangement for past-due unpaid service or if they have not applied for the state utility payment assistance program.

What happens if you won’t set up a payment plan

She said before disconnecting a customer’s service, “a PSE&G representative will physically the address associated with the account, that will give a customer one more opportunity to address their balance.”

A discussion will begin about “starting the payment arrangements or paying towards the balance. They will also receive information about payment assistance programs.”

Mazzarella said after that, “if the customer is not available or they are unable to address their balance, yes, at that time we will be turning off their service.”

She did not indicate how many customers have had their service disconnected.

JCP&L follows a similar protocol

According to JCP&L spokesman Chris Hoenig, after customers are sent a disconnection notice, a representative will make an in-person visit to their home, and if no adult is present or answers, a sealed note is left with information about disconnection and reconnection.

He noted JCP&L customer service reps also typically reach out by phone, and while disconnections have not actually started yet they will begin soon if customers refuse to address their situations.

AC Electric spokesman Frank Tedesco said similar to PSE&G and JCP&L, multiple efforts are made to communicate with customers behind on their electric bills before service is shut off, reminding them flexible payment options and different programs are available to help them settle their bills.

He indicated no disconnections have taken place yet but they could begin shortly.

This shouldn't come as a surprise

Mazzarella said for months PSE&G has been talking about the moratorium coming to an end “and the fact that we would need to, as a last resort start the disconnections again, so if it is a surprise it’s unfortunate.”

She noted in recent days, an increasing number of customers with outstanding balances have been contacting PSE&G.

“For our customer service center each day we average about 300 visits; right now we’re averaging about 900 visits a day,” she said.

She pointed out if a customer wants to set up a payment plan or enroll in an assistance program to get the lights turned back on they can call PSE&G or do it in person.

“Our customer service centers are open, we have 16 across the state, so if you’ve recently been disconnected please stop into a customer service center.”

She stressed that “turning off someone’s utility service is absolutely the last resort.”

PSE&G Payment Arrangements can be made at 800-357-2262 or pseg.com/HelpNow.

JCP&L customers who are past due on their bills can call 800-662-3115.

AC Electric customers past due can call 800-510-3102.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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