By: Helena Perray, Writer / Follow South Jersey Community Resources Intern
SOUTH JERSEY — On June 30, New Jersey’s utility moratorium will reach the end of its final extension, meaning that community members will need to begin re-implementing utility costs into their budgets.
The moratorium has prevented utility companies from shutting off residents’ water, electric, and gas services if they are unable to make payments when due. It was put in place last year and extended during the increased period of financial turmoil brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although its extension was originally set to end this past March, the moratorium held for out a few more months. Governor Phil Murphy is planning for the moratorium to end on the quickly-approaching date of June 30, and state residents are increasingly encouraged to look into available utility payment plans.
Among these plans are the Universal Service fund (USF), the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). With a variety of assistance programs available, not everyone is eligible to benefit from them.
For those interested, the state’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) provides New Jersey residents with a brief screening survey to determine eligibility. The survey analyzes income, household size and other variables that determine which programs are suitable for different applicants.
According to the housing and community resources division of the DCA, the USF program aids in the affordability of natural gas and electricity prices for eligible, low-income customers. LIHEAP “helps very low-income residents with their heating and cooling bills, and makes provisions for emergency heating system services and emergency fuel assistance within the Home Energy Assistance Program.”
The WAP assists elderly, handicapped, and low-income residents when it comes to weatherizing their homes, improving their heating system efficiency, and conserving energy, among others.
For those who qualify, an application to LIHEAP must be submitted sooner rather than later. The DCA said that interested residents must apply to LIHEAP before June 30 to be considered. In terms of eligibility, “the applicant household must be responsible for home heating or cooling costs, either directly or included in the rent; and have gross income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level” to receive the program’s benefits. Accepted applicants will receive a program benefit of $200.
Those looking into USF have more flexibility in the application process, as applications for this program are accepted year-round. According to the DCA, accepted participants can receive benefits of up to $150 per month. To receive such benefits, “a household’s gross income must be at or below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level and pay more than 3% of its annual income for electric, or more than 3% for natural gas. If a household has electric heat, it must spend more than 6% of its annual income on electricity.”
The WAP program provides benefits to low-income applicants and “community-based agencies assisting low-income occupied dwelling units.” Applicants must also possess a gross annual income “at or below 200% of Federal Poverty Guidelines.”
According to the DCA, an application for LIHEAP will simultaneously serve as an application to both, the WAP and USF programs.
The detailed guidelines of eligibility for further programs can be viewed here.
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This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.