Bill sponsor Sen. Brian Stack said “it is imperative that we act urgently to protect our residents in need of assistance.” (Daniella Hemninghaus for New Jersey Monitor)
Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill Friday that extends utility shutoff protections for New Jerseyans who seek utility assistance from the state.
The plan, sponsored in the Legislature by Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson) and Sen. Brian Stack (D-Hudson), applies to New Jerseyans who apply for aid through the Department of Community Affairs or other state program, and bars their utility companies from cutting service for 60 days after they begin their application.
It also requires the Department of Community Affairs to accept or reject an application for aid within 90 days of receiving it.
“Some utility companies have already started to shut off their customers’ utilities, so it is imperative that we act urgently to protect our residents in need of assistance,” Stack said.
The measure won unanimous approval in the Senate. Three Republican Assemblymen, Jay Webber (R-Morris), Christian Barranco (R-Morris), and Erik Peterson (R-Hunterdon), voted against the measure in the lower chamber, where it passed 72-3 with one abstention.
More than 850,000 New Jerseyans are behind on their residential gas and electricity bills, and more than 157,000 are in arrears on water payments, Board of Public Utilities President Joe Fiordaliso said last week.
The bill took only 10 days to reach Murphy’s desk after being introduced on March 14, one day before the end of a state program that barred utility shutoffs between Nov. 15 and March 15 for certain residents.
Lawmakers advanced it over worries that a wave of aid requests could leave some applications in limbo — and some residents without power or water — for months.
“Many families are still recovering financially from the pandemic and a lot of people still face employment challenges,” said Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester). “This is absolutely necessary to ensure families throughout New Jersey continue to have access to water and electric utilities.”
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