By: Follow South Jersey Staff
TRENTON, N.J. — Residents who have fallen behind paying their utility bills due to hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic or other issues will not have to worry about finding themselves in the cold this winter.
Governor Phil Murphy has signed an executive order extending a moratorium preventing New Jersey residents from having their utilities disconnected through at least March 15, 2021.
The moratorium applies to all residential gas, electric, and water utilities, both public and private. Further, the utilities will not be charging late fees nor fees to reconnect services that have been disconnected. The order also requires that all residential services that were disconnected after social distancing measures went into effect on March 16 be reconnected.
“New Jerseyans are hurting and many of our fellow state residents, who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic need help,” Murphy said. “Extending the utility moratorium is the right thing to do as so many in our state struggle to pay their bills during one of the most devastating economic crises in the history of our country. As we enter the winter months it becomes even more imperative that we work with our state’s utilities keep the lights on and families warm.”
The Governor and legislative leadership further announced that $15 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund will be allocated to assisting low income households in paying off utility arrearages. The Department of Community Affairs will use a portion of the funds to address arrearages among low income households who are current Universal Service Fund (USF) participants. USF serves low-income families (Income below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level) who need assistance with electric and natural gas bills.
“Thank you to the Governor and to the utilities for taking an important step today to protect New Jersey residents who are facing dire financial circumstances and are unable to pay their utility bills,” Board of Public Utilities President Joseph L. Fiordaliso said. “Now, nobody will fear losing service during the winter months. Please know as well that assistance and deferred payment programs are available to prevent bills from piling up over time. Help is here for those who need it.”
The order also extends the Internet disconnection moratorium to November 15. In addition, cable and telecommunications providers are prohibited from disconnecting Internet service in households that have one or more school-age children that may be using such service for educational purposes. If a household experiences a change of circumstances where school age children will be using their home Internet service for school, the cable and telecommunications company will be required to reconnect that Internet service.
After November 15, cable and telecommunications providers are required to enroll customers with an already existing account in an interest free payment plan of at least 12 equal monthly installments, including the balance already due, prior to disconnecting the customer’s service.
“Protecting the most vulnerable households in our state during this pandemic is a priority,” Murphy said.
“The economic consequences of the Covid crisis is having a severe impact on their ability to afford utility bills State Senate President Steve Sweeny said. “The extended moratorium is especially important for families with children who need power supplies to participate in remote learning at home. Utilities are a necessity that should not be lost to those in need.”
Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said that with the ongoing pandemic, people still need help.
“With the winter months approaching, a pandemic still ongoing and our economy still in recession, it is important that we continue to make sure residents who are struggling to stay afloat financially aren’t suddenly without water, without heat, without electricity,” Cappelli said. “We have to make sure that kids who must have internet access for remote schooling continue to have that access.”
“We insisted that this funding be included in the budget because we won’t allow for utility shut offs that would deny New Jersey residents vital electric, heat, and water services,” Sweeney added. “A sudden loss of power and utilities would create disruptive and even dangerous conditions for families, individuals and small businesses who are enduring more than enough financial hardship caused by the pandemic.”
Although the moratorium is being extended, utility customers are still encouraged to set up payment plans with their utilities so they can begin paying their bills, if they are able, over a period of time. Utility customers are also urged to apply for the assistance programs that are available at both the Board of Public Utilities and the Department of Community Affairs, and from their utilities.
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