East Orange, NJ—Commemorating Utility Assistance Week, New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) President Joseph L. Fiordaliso, today urged the hundreds of thousands of utility customers who have fallen behind on their utility bills to apply for the State’s expanded assistance programs that went into effect on October 1, 2021.
In East Orange, where many residents are in arrears on their utility bills, President Fiordaliso joined Mayor Ted Green, State Senator Nia Gill, Assemblyman Thomas Giblin and Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake who all spoke to the need for their constituents in need to reach out for the help that is available.
Local community based organizations La Casa de Don Pedro of Newark and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, an outreach organization for the Department of Community Affairs, were on hand to help residents apply for utility payment assistance.
“I have great empathy for the many New Jerseyans who are behind on their utility bills,” said President Fiordaliso. “We expanded our program to offer help to more households who have experienced financial hardships due to the pandemic. With the grace period on utility disconnections expiring on December 31, I urge everyone to seek the help that is available now.”
“We know that thousands of our residents are still struggling to meet their monthly bill obligations, and with the grace period for utility shut-offs ending soon, this expanded program will be a blessing to so many,” said East Orange Mayor Ted R. Green. “It is absolutely critical that we all work together as community leaders and partners to make sure these programs and resources are spread as widely as possible and put in the hands of the people who need them the most.”
“We know that people are still hurting from the impact of the COVID pandemic,” said State Senator Gill. “That’s why we urge people to apply for the additional funds that the Federal Government, Governor and Legislature have made available for this purpose.”
“I join with everyone here today in reaching out to the members of our community, many of whom owe large utility bills due to the COVID pandemic,” said Assemblyman Giblin. “Please apply for assistance. Time is running out.”
“We are coming to the end of the grace period for New Jerseyans who are behind on paying their utility bills,” said Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake. “It is so important that all of our fellow New Jerseyans apply for the programs that have been enhanced for just this purpose.”
On October 1, NJBPU expanded income limits for its Universal Service Fund (USF) and its Fresh Start Programs to help many more households across the state receive the assistance they need. USF provides monthly credits to utility bills, making electric and natural gas services more affordable for households in need.
The Fresh Start Program is a component of the USF program that provides unlimited debt forgiveness for past due balances and helps improve a customer’s payment record. Under Fresh Start, if a USF customer pays current charges on monthly utility bills, in full, for one year, prior overdue balances are eliminated.
Under the USF expansion a family of four earning up to $106,000 will now qualify for assistance. The previous income limit had been $48,000 for a family of four. Additionally the USF benefit cap has been increased from $150 per month to $180 per month.
NJBPU also expanded the Fresh Start program, which is usually available only to first time USF participants, but is now available to all USF participants, provided they owe $60 or more on their electric or gas bill. Fresh Start wipes out the debt of those who owe money on their bills as long as they make their regular monthly payments for a year.
Those who would like to apply for assistance are invited to go to the website of the Department of Community Affairs to apply online or go to www.energyassistance.nj.gov for detailed program information.
About the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU)
NJBPU is a state agency and regulatory authority mandated to ensure safe, adequate and proper utility services at reasonable rates for New Jersey customers. Critical services regulated by NJBPU include natural gas, electricity, water, wastewater, telecommunications and cable television. The Board has general oversight and responsibility for monitoring utility service, responding to consumer complaints, and investigating utility accidents. To find out more about NJBPU, visit our website at www.nj.gov/bpu.