UNIVERSAL SERVICE FUND – Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the Universal Service Fund (USF)?
The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) has created the Universal Service Fund (USF) program to help make electric and natural gas bills more affordable for lowincome families. The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) administers the USF program.

Who is eligible for USF?
To be eligible for USF you must meet two qualifications:


1) Your total gross annual household income must be less than or equal to 175% of the
Federal Poverty Level (FPL) (see below); and
2) You must also spend more than 3% of your income for electric service or more than 3% of your income for natural gas service. If you heat your home with electricity, you must spend more than 6% of your income on electricity.

USF recipients must reside at the address provided on their utility account, and USF benefits will only be offered to the person/head of household or spouse listed on the utility account.
Please Note: Municipal utilities and the services they provide are not covered by USF.

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How much money will I receive from USF?
If you are found eligible to participate in the USF program, you will receive a credit on your electric and/or natural gas bill to help reduce the cost. The size of monthly USF credit is based on total household income and the amount of money you typically pay for gas and electric service. Therefore the amount of the USF credit is determined individually for each eligible customer and may change during the course of the benefit year.

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How is the USF benefit calculated?
The USF benefit is calculated based on a number of factors, including your annual household income, benefits that your household receives from the Lifeline program and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and your annual energy burden which is based on the electric and natural gas bills for your household. Here is an example of how a USF benefit would be calculated for a sample natural gas bill:

Annual Income, Household of Four -
$24,000
Annual Natural Gas Bill -
$ 1,500
Annual LIHEAP Benefits -
$400

Step #1 – Determine the customer’s current natural gas burden

Annual Natural Gas Bill
$1,500
 
Minus LIHEAP Benefit –
-$400
 
 
________
 
Actual Natural Gas Burden =
$1,100
(more than 3% of income)


Step #2 – Determine what the customer should be paying for natural gas under USF

Annual Household Income $24,000
Maximum Natural Gas Bill Burden under USF x 3% of income
  _______
Customer’s Maximum Natural Gas Burden = $720

Step #3 – USF will pay the difference

Actual Natural Gas Burden
$1,100
 
Customer’s Maximum USF Natural Gas Burden
– $720
 
 
_______
 
Annual USF Benefit =
$380
÷ 12 - $31.67/ month


Please Note: A similar calculation would be made using a customer’s electricity costs. However, the LIHEAP credit is not counted a second time. It is applied only once to the utility providing energy for heating purposes. If you also receive a Lifeline benefit, that benefit is applied to the natural gas and/or electric utility bill based on the information you provided the state.
The maximum total annual USF benefit for any given household is up to $1,800.

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Does the USF benefit take into account that energy prices may change during the year?
Yes. A customer’s energy burden is calculated using an adjustment for any anticipated changes in energy prices in the coming year.

How do I apply for USF?
You can use the joint USF/LIHEAP application to apply for USF at any time of year, or to apply for USF and LIHEAP at the same time during the winter months (typically November – April). While applicants may apply for USF at any time of year, they are encouraged to submit the joint USF/LIHEAP application during the winter months when their eligibility can be determined for both USF and LIHEAP. Please note: If you apply for Food Stamps and/or PAAD Program, the data on your Food Stamps and PAAD applications will also be checked for eligibility into USF and LIHEAP. This does not guarantee enrollment in either or both programs because you will still have to meet each program’s eligibility criteria. In addition, you may be asked to provide additional information to assist in determining your eligibility for USF.

USF/LIHEAP applications and a list of agencies in your area that accept applications are available on the Internet at: www.energyassistance.nj.gov or you can call the USF Hotline at: 1-866-240-1347 or email utilityhelp@nj211.org.

How will I know if I am going to get a benefit?
You will be notified by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) regarding your USF eligibility status. If found eligible, you will receive a notice in the mail from DCA with your USF benefit amount. If you are found ineligible, you will receive a notice advising you of the reason your eligibility was denied. This notice will include the address and telephone number of the agency in your area that you must contact to correct any erroneous information, as well as information on how to request an administrative review if you believe your denial was in error. All applicants will receive two notices, one concerning their eligibility for a natural gas benefit, the other for the electric benefit.

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If I heat with oil or propane will I be eligible for USF benefits?
USF benefits are only credited to natural gas and electric bills. However, even if you heat with oil or propane, any expenses you have for electric and/or natural gas service will potentially be eligible for a USF benefit if it is more than 3% of your household’s gross income.

If I rent, will I be covered under USF?
Renters and homeowners are both eligible for USF. Even if your heat is included in your rent, you may be eligible for USF for your electricity if you have an electric account in your name.


Does everyone who receives Lifeline or LIHEAP qualify for a USF benefit?
No, income eligibility criteria for USF are lower than income eligibility criteria of the LIHEAP and LIFELINE programs. Eligibility for USF is also based on how much you pay for energy each year. Some LIHEAP and Lifeline recipients that are income eligible for USF might not meet this second eligibility requirement. Therefore if you receive LIHEAP or Lifeline benefits and meet the USF income requirements but pay less than the required amount of your household income for electricity or natural gas, you will not receive a USF benefit.

I live in subsidized housing, am I eligible for USF?
If you receive a Section 8 subsidy and have an electric or gas account in your name, you may be eligible for USF.

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Why is my USF credit different than my friend/neighbor?
The USF credit is individually calculated based on each household’s income and
energy burden. Since the income and energy burden of each USF recipient is different,
the benefit that each USF recipient receives will be different.

Will receiving USF affect or make me lose any other assistance I get?
No. Your participation in USF will not affect the benefits you are now receiving from other benefit programs. Please make sure you continue to maintain your current benefit program enrollments.

How will I receive my USF credit? Will I get a check?
The USF benefit will appear on your electric or natural gas bill in the form of a credit. For many customers, it will be listed as either “USF Credit” or “Universal Service Fund Credit.” This credit will be subtracted from what you owe your utility company. You will only be responsible for paying the balance that remains after the USF credit is subtracted. No actual cash benefit will be given to customers to ensure that the benefit is used only for electric and gas expenses.

Will I get a USF benefit for both my natural gas bill and my electric bill?
Some people are eligible for a USF credit on their natural gas bill, others are eligible for a USF credit on their electric bill, and some are eligible for both a natural gas and an electric USF credit. If you get separate natural gas and electric bills you may get a USF credit on your natural gas bill and another on your electric bill. The actual calculation
of a benefit will depend on how much electricity and natural gas you use in comparison
to your household income.

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How long will my USF benefit last?
In most cases, you will receive benefits for the maximum 12 months per benefit year. However, certain factors including when you submit your USF/LIHEAP application, if you move during your benefit year and other possible circumstances, may result in your USF benefit lasting less than 12 months. You will receive a notice to remind you to reapply for USF and you will need to reapply for USF every year. (If you are a Food Stamps recipient, you do not have to fill out a USF or LIHEAP application).

Will my USF benefit be different from year to year?
Your USF benefit may change because it is based upon your current reported income and your projected energy usage. The amount of USF benefit you receive may change during the program year.

If I move during the year, can I still continue to receive my USF benefit?
You are still eligible to receive your USF benefit if you remain a customer of one of the seven natural gas or electric companies (energy company)* in New Jersey and are responsible for the energy bills at your new location. If you are receiving USF benefits when you move, you should tell your new energy company that you were receiving USF at your former residence and how your new home is heated so that the level of your benefit can be reviewed and activated for your new account.

* The seven regulated natural gas and electric (energy) companies in New Jersey are: New Jersey Natural Gas Company, Elizabethtown Gas Company, South Jersey Gas Company, PSE&G, Rockland Electric Company, Jersey Central Power & Light and Atlantic City Electric Company.

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If my income changes during the year, can my USF benefit be updated?
No. USF benefits are not recalculated for changes in income during a program year. However, if you submit an updated USF/LIHEAP application before the 12 months of your USF program year are over, any remaining months of your current USF program year may be lost and a new program year will begin at a new amount.

How is the USF program funded?
All electric and natural gas customers contribute funding for the USF program through a charge to their electric and gas rates.

What is the Fresh Start Program?
If you have a balance of $60 or more on your energy bill as you enter the USF program, you may be eligible for additional benefits under the New Jersey Fresh Start Program.

The Fresh Start Program is a component of the USF program and is only available for your first year of participation in USF. Fresh Start is a partnership between the customer and USF to forgive past due balances and improve your payment record. Simply pay your current USF-supplemented bill on time and in full every month and after 12 months of full on-time payments, your pre-USF program overdue balance will be erased. If you are eligible for Fresh Start when you enroll in USF for the first time, you will be automatically enrolled by your energy company and will be sent additional information about how the Fresh Start program works.

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Can my utility service be shut-off even if I receive USF?
Your natural gas or electric service can be interrupted if you do not pay your portion of your utility bill each month, unless you are eligible for and have contacted your energy company to request protection through the Winter Termination Program. (See “Winter Termination Program” below).

How can I get additional information about USF?
For more information about USF go on line to: www.energyassistance.nj.gov or email utilityhelp@nj211.org or call the Department of Community Affairs’ toll-free USF hotline at: 1-866-240-1347

What is the Winter Termination Program?
The Winter Termination Program (WTP) is in effect from November 15 through March 15. The program prevents residential gas and electric customers who participate in:

  • USF
  • LIHEAP
  • Work First New Jersey/Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (WFNJ/TANF)
  • Lifeline Utility Assistance program
  • Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PAAD)

from having their gas or electric service disconnected during the winter months. You must call your utility and request protection under the Winter Termination Program and explain why you need this protection. The WTP Program is administered by the Board of Public Utilities. For more information on the WTP, please call 1-800-624-0241.

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What should I do if I am still having trouble paying my bill?
Ask your energy company about other assistance programs that are available to help you pay your bills, such as:

  • New Jersey Comfort Partners 1-888-773-8326
  • LIHEAP 1-800-510-3102
  • Lifeline 1-800-792-9745
  • Gift of Warmth (Available to New Jersey Natural Gas customers only)

Please call your utility company if:

  1. You have routine questions about your utility bill;
  2. You need information about an affordable payment plan for your utility bill; or,
  3. You need information about the Fresh Start Program, which helps new USF customers deal with past due balances.

Please contact the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU), Division of Customer Assistance if:

  1. Your utility has discontinued, or threatened to discontinue, your energy service and you need assistance;
  2. You want to dispute a service shutoff; or,

Your utility has refused to negotiate a reasonable payment plan for your past due balances.
- You may reach the BPU Division of Customer Assistance at: 1-800-624-0241

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