| State of New Jersey
Department Of The Public Advocate
240 West State St.
P.O. Box 851
Trenton, NJ 08625-0851
Phone: (609) 826-5090 Fax: (609) 984-4747
|JON S. CORZINE
For Immediate Release:
December 17, 2007
Public Advocate Urges BPU To
Screen Low-income, Senior Consumers
For Energy Assistance Program
Newark, N.J.— The Public Advocate’s Division of Rate Counsel today testified before the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), asking the Board to comply with its 2003 order to automatically screen low-income, elderly and disabled consumers for Universal Service Fund (USF) benefits.
Testimony was presented by Paul Flanagan, Litigation Manager, on behalf of Public Advocate Ronald K. Chen and Stefanie Brand, director of the Division of Rate Counsel.
“The Universal Service Fund provides critical assistance to help low-income customers, many of them elderly and disabled, pay their heating and electricity bills. In the face of rising energy costs, the assistance provided through the Universal Service Fund has become even more essential to protecting the well being of some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents,” Flanagan testified. “Without the help provided through the Universal Service program, a family living on a low or fixed income may well confront a choice between filling a needed prescription drug or paying the utility bill.”
In 2003, the BPU issued an order that low-income customers with household incomes below 175 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible for the USF program, and that participants in the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Lifeline program would be automatically screened for USF eligibility.
The Lifeline Credit Program is for those whose income or energy burdens qualify them for financial assistance. The USF assistance program was created by the state to help low-income customers pay their energy bills. To ensure that those who qualify for the USF program take advantage of it, the Board’s 2003 order provided that applicants for the Lifeline Credit Program would be automatically screened for USF eligibility. Otherwise, potential participants would have to fill out additional application forms or might not be aware that they qualify for the USF program.
When the BPU undertook its first full-scale automatic enrollment process in October of 2003, participants in the LIHEAP and Lifeline programs were automatically screened for eligibility for the USF, using information already in the state’s databases for these two programs. As a result of this process, over 31,000 participants in the Lifeline program were identified and found to be eligible for benefits under the Universal Service program. Since that time, however, the state continued to screen participants in the LIHEAP program for eligibility for USF benefits, but there have been no further automatic screenings of Lifeline recipients.
On December 14, 2007, the Division of Rate Counsel filed a Notice of Appeal challenging the BPU inaction and asked the Appellate Division to require the BPU to comply with its original order. Chen also urged the Board to continue automatic screening in the future to ensure that those that were eligible for the program are able to take advantage of it.
For a copy of the Rate Counsel’s testimony and further details about Rate Counsel’s filed comments, go to http://www.state.nj.us/rpa/
The Division of Rate Counsel is a division within the Department of the Public Advocate and represents the interests of consumers of electric, natural gas, water/sewer and telecommunications and cable TV service. Additional information on this and other utility matters can be found at the Division’s website at http://www.state.nj.us/rpa/. The Department of the Public Advocate website is http://www.njpublicadvocate.gov.