Utilities can shut service starting Oct. 15. How to get help before then
Residents have several weeks left to enroll in payment assistance programs before New Jersey electric, gas, and water utilities are legally allowed to shut off services for unpaid bills that accumulated during the pandemic.
Gov. Phil Murphy recently announced the suspension of service shutoffs was extended to Oct. 15 for both residential and commercial customers of utilities in the state.
Customers may start to receive shutoff notices in advance of that, in September.
The utilities are able to offer customers extended Deferred Payment Agreements (DPAs) of at least 12 months and up to 24 months. According to the state's website for pandemic resources, no down payments are required for such DPA assistance.
For customers who get such notice of impending shutoffs, the state advises contacting the utility company as soon as possible, before Oct. 15, to make arrangements and "explore enrolling in a DPA."
Both PSE&G and Jersey Central Power and Light — the state's two largest electric utilities — have state and federal assistance program resources listed on their respective websites. Atlantic City Electric and Orange Rockland Electric also have similar resource pages online.
“We understand many customers are in a difficult financial situation because of the
pandemic,” Michelle Henry, vice president of customer service at JCP&L parent company FirstEnergy said in a statement. "Customers who have lost income during this crisis may be eligible for assistance that was unavailable to them before.”
JCP&L recently encouraged customers to take advantage of several programs available through the state or through other organizations. Among them:
- Universal Service Fund Programs help make energy bills more affordable by offering eligible customers monthly bill credits, and in some cases debt forgiveness. Residents can apply by calling 211 or visiting the DCAid screening tool.
- The Low Income Energy Assistance Program / Home Energy Assistance Program helps income-eligible residents with their heating and cooling bills and makes provisions for emergency heating system services and emergency fuel assistance. Residents can apply by calling 211 or visiting the DCAid screening tool.
- Lifeline provides funding for utility bills for qualifying disabled persons and senior citizens. Applications must be made annually to receive the benefit. The Lifeline benefit applies only to the customer's primary residence and must be in the customer's or the customer’s spouse's name. Residents can apply by calling 609-588-7182 visiting the Lifeline website.
- Payment Assistance for Gas & Electric helps low- to moderate-income customers in New Jersey who are struggling to pay their electric and natural gas bills. The PAGE energy assistance program benefits homeowners and renters who have not received help from the Universal Service Fund in the past six months or from the Home Energy Assistance Program within the last heating season. The household must also have a documented notice of overdue payment for gas and/or electric service and have a past history of making regular payments toward their utility bills. Residents can apply by calling 732-982-8710 or visiting the NJPowerOn website.
- The Comfort Partners Program is a free energy savings and education program for income eligible customers. The program helps customers save energy and money by reducing their electric bills by installing energy conservation measures in the home and by educating family members on their energy and conservation choices. Participation is prioritized based on the customer's energy consumption. There are household income requirements and other program qualifications. Residents can apply by calling 800-915-8309 or visiting the Comfort Partner Webpage.
- The 211 Helpline is a nationwide resource and information helpline that identifies locally available programs that may assist customers with utility bills or other needs. For more information dial 211, text your ZIP code to 898211 or visit the 211 Website.
An executive order by Murphy also remains in effect since April, prohibiting Internet and phone services from being shut off until 30 days after the state's current public health emergency has ended.
Additionally NJ SHARES is a non-profit organization that provides assistance to income-eligible New Jersey households for paying energy, telephone, broadband internet, and water bills. For more information, residents can call 1-866-657-4273.
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