The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) has mailed a letter to approximately 350,000 households with overdue electric and natural gas bills to notify the residents of these households that they are potentially eligible for assistance to pay their utility arrearages.
The DCA is urging people who receive a letter to act quickly and immediately apply for help since the assistance is available for a limited time only, according to a press release.
“If you or a loved one receives a letter from the DCA about utility relief, please understand the letter is official and legitimate. Do not throw it away or toss it aside. We encourage you to follow the instructions on the letter and apply as soon as you can for help with your overdue electric and gas bills,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who serves as DCA commissioner.
“The (coronavirus) pandemic has been hard on so many people and forced families to choose between essential expenses like housing, food, medicine and utilities. If you weren’t able to pay one or more utility bills, assistance is available to cover most, if not all, of what you owe,” Oliver said.
“With the grace period for paying overdue utility bills set to expire on Dec. 31, I urge anyone who is eligible for utility assistance to apply for these programs,” said Joseph L. Fiordaliso, president, New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.
“We are extremely empathetic toward those who have been deeply impacted by COVID and unable to pay their utility bill. Recognizing this, the board expanded eligibility for the Universal Service Fund and Fresh Start Programs to ensure more New Jerseyans have access to the help they need,” Fiorsaliso said.
The letter from the DCA contains a QR code that households can scan with their smartphone to access a state website to apply for utility relief. The letter also includes a web address and a toll free telephone number for those households that do not have a smartphone or an internet connection.
Households will have one month from the time they receive the letter to complete the application form and certify a COVID-related hardship affected their ability to pay their electric and/or gas bills. If found eligible, households will receive credits on their utility accounts, according to the press release.
Approximately $375 million in federal funding has been allocated for utility arrearages. The press release states that 60% of the allocation is coming from legislation Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law on Aug. 4. The remainder of the allocation is from Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding set aside specifically for utility arrears.
The DCA offers numerous programs and services, including local government management and finance, affordable housing production, fire safety, building safety, community planning and development, and disaster recovery and mitigation, according to the press release.