By: Follow South Jersey Staff
SOUTH JERSEY – The grace period to apply for utility relief for households with overdue electric and natural gas bills will end on December 31, 2021.
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) mailed out letters in mid-October to approximately 350,000 households behind in their electric and gas bills to inform them about assistance to pay their utility arrearages and to urge them to immediately apply for help since the assistance is available for a limited time only. After the grace period for paying overdue utility bills expires, utilities can be disconnected for non-payment.
“We encourage households that require assistance with utility arrears to apply today before the grace period ends on December 31,” Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver said in a press release from DCA. “Households that might have misplaced the letter, didn’t open it, or forgot about it can visit DCAid on the DCA website and enter their utility account number to see if they qualify for arrears assistance.”
Households that did not receive a letter from DCA but now are in arrears can also apply. And for assistance with upcoming heating bills throughout the winter, the LIHEAP and New Jersey Universal Service Fund (USF) program application period is open. New Jersey residents can apply online by visiting https://njdca-housing.dynamics365portals.us/en-US/dcaid-services/. To find out if they’re eligible for this assistance, people can use the completely anonymous online screening tool called DCAid by visiting nj.gov/dca/dcaid.
Also, households that are having difficulty applying are encouraged to contact the nonprofit community organization in their county of residence that is working with DCA to provide application assistance. A list of the community organizations providing such assistance is available at https://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/dhcr/offices/agencydirectorylist.html on the DCA website.
The letters mailed out in October contain 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 toll-free phone number for those households that don’t have a smartphone or internet. Households can also visit https://dcaid.dca.nj.gov/dcaid-services to see if they qualify. The toll-free assistance hotline, 1-844-930-1778, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and provides translation assistance for over 150 languages.
Households must complete an application form and certify that a COVID-related hardship affected their ability to pay for electric and/or gas bills. If found eligible, households will receive credits on their utility accounts.
Approximately $375 million in federal funding has been allocated for utility arrearages. Sixty percent of the allocation is coming from legislation (S-3691) Governor Murphy signed into law on August 4, 2021. The remainder is from Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding set aside specifically for utility arrearages.
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a federal program that helps households at or below 60 percent of the state median income ($6,439 a month for a family of four) pay for energy costs (electric, gas, deliverable fuels and those included in rent). The Universal Service Fund (USF) program provides a monthly credit on electric and gas bills for households at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($8,833 a month for a family of four).
Also, the Lifeline Utility Assistance Program, which is administered by the New Jersey Department of Human Services, provides an annual $225 grant for electric and gas costs to seniors and the disabled. The grant appears as a credit on a utility bill or is included in a recipient’s Supplemental Security Income check. Income limits for this program are set at less than $28,769 for a single person or at $35,270 if married.
DCA offers a wide range of programs and services, including affordable housing production, fire safety, building safety, community planning and development, local government management and finance, and disaster recovery and mitigation.
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