Residents urged to seek aid as utility shutoff moratorium lapses

1 million people are behind on utility bills, owing more than $700 million

By: - March 15, 2022 4:18 pm

Lt. Sheila Oliver (Courtesy of OIT/New Jersey Governor’s Office

State officials urged residents behind on their utility bills to seek aid from the state or their utility providers Tuesday, warning the end of a winter moratorium could lead to shutoffs for hundreds of thousands of residents.

“The funding is there. We want you to come forward and apply for it. We do not want to be left with any dime at the end of this process,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, the commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs.

New Jersey’s utility shutoff grace period ends Tuesday, as does the state’s winter termination program, which barred utility shutoffs for certain residents between Nov. 15 and March 15.

Oliver, the state’s acting governor while Gov. Phil Murphy is out of the state until Wednesday, made the plea at a press conference in Trenton Tuesday, where more than 9,000 residents collectively owe $17 million in utility payments.

Statewide, utility customers in arrears owe more than $660 million, according to the Board of Public Utilities. Another 157,000 are behind on water bills statewide, owing more than $50 million.

Though services won’t immediately be interrupted, utility companies can begin mailing shutoff notices to the roughly 850,000 New Jerseyans in arrears on their gas and electricity bills, Board of Public Utilities President Joe Fiordaliso said.

Residents facing arrearages can prevent a shutoff by applying for utility assistance through state programs or by working directly with their utility provider.

“They’re more than willing to help you to find an assistance program that can help you pay off your utility bill,” Fiordaliso said. “It’s so vitally important. We don’t want anybody in a situation where they can’t pay their utility bill.”

Households that submit an application for aid or set up a payment plan with their utility provider are shielded from shutoffs, Fiordaliso said.

Murphy last August signed a bill setting aside $250 million for utility assistance, and applications for those funds are open. The Board of Public Utilities operates a series of other programs meant to help low- and moderate-income residents meet their utility obligations.

Income limits to the utility assistance program have been temporarily raised to 400% of the federal poverty level. That amounts to $106,000 for a four-person household.

That program offers monthly credits of up to $180 for residents behind on their gas or electricity bills and allows residents to have a portion of their debt forgiven when making a full monthly payment.

Residents seeking aid should call the Board of Public Utilities’ customer assistance line at 800-624-0241, Fiordaliso said. They can also apply for rental and utility assistance on the Department of Community Affairs’ website.

The administration is also in talks with public and private water utilities statewide over new shutoff protections.

“We’re asking the utility companies to sign off on receiving direct payment from us,” Oliver said. “If they do, we are asking that they not cut a customer off for the proceeding next sixth months.”

Some water servicers have signed on, Oliver said, but others are still negotiating.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.