| State of New Jersey
Department Of The Public Advocate
240 West State St.
P.O. Box 851
Trenton, NJ 08625-0851
Phone: (609) 826-5090 Fax: (609) 984-4747
|JON S. CORZINE
For Immediate Release:
February 28, 2007
|RONALD K. CHEN
For Further Information
New Jersey Public Advocate Urges Consumers To Know Their Rights and Resources For Difficulty in Paying Utility Bills
Newark, N.J.—New Jersey Public Advocate Ronald K. Chen today urged consumers to know their rights and the resources available to them if they are experiencing difficulty in paying their energy bills.
“I want consumers to know that they have options and rights when it comes to paying for their utility bills,” said Chen. “Consumers may meet the eligibility requirements of several programs that can assist them if they are facing extreme hardship in keeping up with their utility bills.”
Chen said consumers should not wait until the last minute or when they are in crisis to communicate with their utility about what can be done to pay for energy bills. He said they should reach out to their utility companies and then see if they are eligible to apply for assistance from available energy programs.
Rate Counsel Seema M. Singh said utilities are obligated to abide by the Winter Termination Program – a program in effect from November 15 through March 15. The program prevents residential gas and electric customers who participate in the Lifeline, Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), Work First New Jersey/Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (WFNJ/TANF), Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PAAD) from having their gas or electric service disconnected during the winter months. The program is administered by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. For more information on the Winter Termination Program, call 1-800-624-0241.
Several utilities also offer financial assistance help, so consumers should check with their utility. For instance, New Jersey Natural Gas offers the Gift of Warmth program to help customers pay their heating bills during times of financial hardship. The program is supported by the company’s shareholders, employees and customers. For more information on the company’s program, call 800-221-0051 or go to www1.njng.com/community/gifts.asp. New Jersey Natural Gas customers can also contact their appropriate county agency for eligibility information.
“The sooner consumers reach out and start the process in seeking assistance with their energy bills, the better,” said Singh.
Singh also encouraged energy conservation as a way to reduce energy bills. Contact the Rate Counsel office for the free Consumer Conservation Handbook, which is filled with energy-saving tips. The book can be obtained by calling 973-648-2690 or visiting www.rpa.state.nj.us.
Information on energy assistance programs is available on the Rate Counsel’s website www.rpa.state.nj.us and on the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities’ website at www.bpu.state.nj.us. Programs include:
1. LIHEAP--(Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program)---800-510-3102 or http://www.nj.gov/dca/dcr/hea/index.shtml.
2. N.J. SHARES (Statewide Heating Assistance and Referral for Energy)--866-657-4273. The program provides assistance to individuals and families living in New Jersey who are in need of temporary help in paying their energy bills. To qualify for N.J. SHARES, a person or family must be facing a financial crisis and not be eligible for welfare.
3. The Universal Service Fund (USF)-- a program designed to help make energy bills more affordable for low-income customers, can be reached on the web www.energyassistance.nj.gov. or by calling 1-866-240-1347.
4. Lifeline Program-- offers $225 to persons who meet the PAAD eligibility requirements or who receive SSI. This includes utility customers as well as tenants whose utility bills are included in their rent. Lifeline benefits are provided for only electricity and natural gas. For more information, call 1-800-792-9745.
The Division of Rate Counsel is a division within the Department of the Public Advocate and represents the interests of consumers of electric, natural gas, water/sewer telecommunications, cable TV service and insurance (residential, small business, commercial and industrial customers). Additional information on this and other utility matters can be found at the Division’s website at http://www.rpa.state.nj.us. The Department of the Public Advocate website is http://www.state.nj.us/publicadvocate.