Residents catch a break from utility shutoffs — for now — under new law

Gabrielle Saulsbery//March 28, 2022//

Residents catch a break from utility shutoffs — for now — under new law

Gabrielle Saulsbery//March 28, 2022//

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Residential customers waiting for a decision on state assistance to address their overdue utility payments won’t have their power shut off just yet.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill 2356 on March 25 extending the prohibition on utility shutoffs.

“Over the past two years, we have implemented critical protections for residential utility customers in our state,” Murphy said. “As New Jersey continues on our road to recovery, we must provide ongoing support to residents who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This legislation will keep the lights on and water running for families who are still making their way through the process of obtaining assistance from our state.”

The previous utility shutoff grace period for residential water, sewer and municipal electric customers ended on March 15, and was extended by executive order. Certain public gas and electric utilities customers were also protected through March 15 under the Winter Termination Program.

The bill signed March 25, extends these protections by requiring companies providing utilities service to customers to accept applications for assistance through June 15. Companies are also required to not shut off service until the application has received a determination.  Those applying for assistance will be protected for 60 days after initiating a utility assistance application; and the Department of Community Affairs, Department of Human Services, Board of Public Utilities or any other state agency administering a utility assistance program will notify utility service providers of the customers who have applied for an assistance program and are eligible for this grace period while awaiting their application determination.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver

“Our hope is that this new law spurs people who need utility assistance to complete an application as soon as possible to avoid a utility shutoff. We significantly expanded income eligibility for assistance programs this year to reach more people, including even moderate-income households,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver in a prepared statement. Oliver also serves as commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

“DCA will continue its outreach efforts alongside the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and utility companies to make sure as many people as possible know about the assistance programs and are able to submit an application prior to June 15th,” she said.

Statewide, over 850,000 residential gas and electric customers owe more than $660 million, largely due to pandemic-related challenges, noted state Sen. Vin Gopal, D-District 11, a sponsor of the bill.

“Some utility companies have already started to shut off their customers’ utilities, I am grateful the governor has joined us in acting urgently to protect our residents in need of assistance,” said state Sen. Brian Stack, D-District 33, one of the primary sponsors of the bill. “According to the DCA, applicants who have difficulty submitting an application take 60 days on average to complete the process because of the need to submit various required documents. This will provide that all utility assistance applicants will be protected until June 15th, regardless if their application is pending or completed. This way, no one will have their services shut off while awaiting approval for assistance from the DCA.”