STATE OF NEW JERSEY
Division of The Ratepayer Advocate
31 Clinton Street, 11th Fl
P. O. Box 46005
Newark, New Jersey 07101
November 10, 2004
M. SINGH, Esq.
Assistance Programs Available for New Jersey’s Residents
New Jersey Ratepayer Advocate Seema M. Singh
For some, the winter months bring a time of happiness. A time of snuggling by a warm fire, ice skating on a frozen pond, sleigh riding down a snow-covered hill. For others, winter is a time of crisis.
Throughout New Jersey, many residents struggle during the cold winter months to pay their heating bills. For many, choosing between food, medicine and heat is a daily hardship.
But help is available.
As the Ratepayer Advocate for the state of New Jersey, I work on behalf of all utility customers to ensure that all of our state’s residents—particularly low-income families, seniors citizens and the most vulnerable residents—have access to affordable utility services. In New Jersey, there are several financial assistance programs and other helpful options available to those who cannot afford heating costs for their home.
Funded through state, federal and private dollars, the assistance programs provide financial grants and credits to low-income residents and those in temporary financial crisis. The programs include:
The New Jersey Lifeline Credit Program is a state-funded program that provides a $225 yearly credit to qualifying electric and natural gas customers. To qualify, customers must be age 65 or older or disabled residents age 18 or older who receive Social Security disability benefits. The annual income must be less than $20,437 if single, and $25,058 if married. For information on Lifeline, call 1-800-792-9745 or visit the website at:
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a federally funded program that provides low-income households, including renters, with assistance in paying heating bills.
For eligibility, the 2005 maximum gross income levels range from $1,358 per month for a single resident to $4,604 per month for a family of eight. Participants in this program are not limited in how they heat their home. Heating can include electricity, natural gas, oil, kerosene, wood, coal or propane.
The LIHEAP application period runs from November 1, 2004 to March 31, 2005. For more information on LIHEAP, call 1-800-510-3102 or visit the website at www.energyassistance.nj.gov
• UNIVERSAL SERVICE
The New Jersey Universal Service Fund is a program to help low-income households pay for electric and natural gas service. The maximum annual benefit of NJ USF is $1,800, which appears as a credit on a customer’s utility bill.
To be eligible, customers must have a total household income equal to or less than 175 percent of the federal poverty level and spend more than 3 percent of their income on electric or natural gas bills. For electric heat homes, customers must pay more than 6 percent of the household income on electricity.
The fund is administered by the New Jersey Department of Human Services. When calculating how much a household pays for energy each year, the Department of Human Services considers benefits the household has received from other programs, including Lifeline or LIHEAP. Beginning in November, residents may apply for USF and LIHEAP with one application. For more information on NJ USF, call 1-800-510-3102 or visit www.energyassistance.nj.gov
• NJ SHARES
The New Jersey Statewide Heating Assistance and Referral for Energy Services (NJ SHARES) is a private, non-profit corporation, which provides assistance through a statewide, year-round independent energy fund.
NJ SHARES provides a one-time grant for those who are experiencing a major financial setback, such as a job loss or medical crisis. There is no income requirement. Recipients are asked to demonstrate that they have exhausted all other sources of assistance and that they have made a good faith effort to pay their energy bill. The program provides a one-time grant of up to $250 for natural gas and $250 for electricity or $500 for an all-electric home.
The basic funding for NJ SHARES comes from utility customer contributions, raised through bill inserts, which are matched by the participating utility. For more information on NJ SHARES, call 1-866-657-4273 or visit www.njshares.org
• WINTER TERMINATION
The state’s Winter Termination Program prevents a regulated electric or gas utility from discontinuing service during the heating season, which runs from November 15 to March 15. Eligible resident include those who receive Lifeline, LIHEAP, PAAD (Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled) or USF benefits; receive Work First NJ temporary assistance or Work First General Assistance or SSI (Supplemental Security Income); or those who can demonstrate circumstances beyond their control including illness, recent death, or other situations, which might cause financial hardship.
Customers who are eligible for shutoff protection must enter into payment arrangements with the utility. Customers will not be shut off if they can show the utility they are making a good faith effort to pay. For information on the Winter Termination Program, call 1-800-624-0241.
• WEATHERIZATION ASSISTANCE
The Weatherization Assistance Program is a federal/state grant program, which provides weatherization services to reduce heating costs for eligible homeowners and renters. A household income must be below 130 percent of the federal poverty level, which ranges from $16,292 for a single resident to $55,247 for a family of eight, according to the 2004 weatherization income guidelines.
After an energy audit is performed,
eligible residents may receive one or more weatherization services including
insulation; caulking and weather stripping; compact fluorescent lighting; refrigerator
replacement; and repair, retrofit or replacement of a heating system, hot water
heater, doors and windows.
For more information on the Weatherization Assistance Program, call 1-800-510-3102.
Sometimes, these financial assistance programs are still not enough. In New Jersey, customers with a large balance on their utility bill can call their utility and negotiate a long-term payment plan. Utilities are required by law to allow customers this option at least once.
Taking advantage of budget billing is another option. Budget billing allows a customer to spread out the yearly utility costs through equal monthly payments. Under this plan, customers pay the same amount each month, instead of paying higher bills during peak usage times.
If you or someone you know is facing financial difficulties this winter season, I urge you to take advantage of the assistance programs or contact your utility for assistance. My office is also available to help. You can reach the NJ Division of the Ratepayer Advocate by calling 1-973-648-2690 or by visiting our website at www.rpa.state.nj.us
Everyone should be able to share in the joys of wintertime. By working together, we can help those most in need.
The Division of the Ratepayer Advocate is an independent state agency that represents the interests of utility consumers and serves as an active participant in every case where New Jersey utilities seek changes in their rates or services. The Ratepayer Advocate also gives consumers a voice in setting long-range energy, water, and telecommunications policy that will affect the delivery of utility services well into the future.
Additional information on this and other matters can be found at the Division of Ratepayer Advocate’s website at http://www.rpa.state.nj.us
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