Utility companies want to work with customers on payment plans. If a customer has received a notice or knows they are on the cusp of getting one, they should reach out, right now, for assistance. The first step can be contacting your utility directly at the customer service number listed on your bill or calling 211 for information on assistance programs.
There are several programs available, so even if someone does not think they are eligible for help, they should still attempt to find out. The Universal Service Fund (USF) provides monthly credits for utility bills. Part of USF is the Fresh Start Program, which 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.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) can help low-income residents with their heating and cooling bills, and make provisions for emergency heating-system services and emergency fuel assistance within the Home Energy Assistance Program. If someone needs help paying their bills, they should not hesitate to apply online for USF or LIHEAP at www.nj.gov/dca/dcaid or call 800-510-3102.
Payment Assistance for Gas and Electric (PAGE) is a state-funded program that provides utility-payment assistance for low- to moderate-income families in the state. PAGE is funded through the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and administered through the Affordable Housing Alliance. Customers can find out if they are eligible for and apply for PAGE at https://njpoweron.org/page/ or call 732-982-8710.
If someone is unsure as to whether they qualify for a program or has questions about what programs are available, NJ SHARES is an excellent source of information. NJ SHARES connects low- and moderate-income households to available resources and it works in all 21 counties. It can be reached at https://njshares.org/ or 609-883-1626.
If you know someone who needs assistance, please share this information. If you know someone who needs assistance but is afraid to take the next step, help them make the call or fill out an application.