Translator Disclaimers
For Immediate Release: Contact: Peter Peretzman
Date: 06/24/2021 609-900-5626
Changes to Eligibility Will Help Thousands of Utility Customers Behind on Their Utility Bills

Trenton, N.J.—The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) today approved changes to the Universal Service Fund (USF) program to provide relief to more New Jerseyans who have been unable to pay their gas or electric bills due to circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.


USF provides monthly credits to utility bills, making electric and natural gas services more affordable for households in need. The Fresh Start Program is a component of the USF program that provides unlimited debt forgiveness for past due balances and helps improve a customer’s payment record. Under Fresh Start, if a USF customer pays current charges on monthly utility bills, in full, for one year, prior overdue balances are eliminated. The Board’s action temporarily modifies USF and the Fresh Start program for a two-year period beginning October 1, 2021.


“We have a great deal of empathy for those who have been unable to pay their bills due to financial hardships brought on by the pandemic. While the State begins its recovery, we felt it was prudent to expand USF and Fresh Start to help families as they get back on their feet,” said NJBPU President Joseph L. Fiordaliso. “We are urging everyone who is behind on their bills to apply for the State’s assistance programs and contact their utilities to set up a payment plan.”


The number of utility customers in arrears has grown significantly since March 2020 with over 730,000 residential customers at least one month behind on their utility bills as of May 15, 2021. While the shutoff moratorium that has been in effect since that time will end on June 30, Governor Murphy recently announced a six-month grace period through the end of the year, during which no residential customer can lose their gas, electric or water service. The same grace period applies for internet services for households with school-aged children who need to be online for educational purposes. Customers are encouraged to use this grace period to apply for assistance programs and to contact their utilities to discuss payment options to avoid potential disconnection.


The USF program changes approved by the Board today go into effect October 1, 2021 and will:


  • Increase income limits from 185% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, so that more customers will become eligible for benefits.1 For a family of four: 185% of the FPL is approximately $48,000 annually; 400% of the FPL is approximately $104,000 annually.
  • Provide a minimum $5.00 USF monthly benefit to any eligible applicant who only meets the income requirement;
  • Increase the USF benefit cap from $150 per month to $180 per month; and
  • Reduce the USF “energy affordability threshold” from three percent of annual income for gas and non-heating electric costs to two percent of income; and reduce the USF energy affordability threshold for electric heat from six percent of annual income to four percent of income.2 Reducing the threshold enables more customers who need help to receive assistance.


The Board approved Fresh Start program changes go into effect October 1, 2021 and include:


  • USF enrollees with an overdue balance of $60 or more will be enrolled in the Fresh Start program; and
  • For each month customers pay their current utility bill in full, 1/12th of their outstanding balances will be forgiven.3


Normal USF and Fresh Start eligibility requirements will resume on October 1, 2023, unless otherwise determined by the Board. Customers who qualify for the Board’s Winter Termination Program (WTP) are already protected from losing gas or electric service through March 15.


Further, their gas or electric company upon request shall reconnect any customer who has been disconnected and demonstrates they have applied for the following assistance programs during the period of October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2023, so they may obtain the available benefits. These are USF, the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), or the Board’s Payment Assistance for Gas and Electric (PAGE) program.


Utility customers can self-screen and apply online for USF and LIHEAP at:  or call 800-510-3102 for more information, to find a local application agency near you, or to request a paper application. Self-screen and apply online for the PAGE program at: or call 732-982-8710 for more information.


About the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU)

NJBPU is a state agency and regulatory authority mandated to ensure safe, adequate and proper utility services at reasonable rates for New Jersey customers. Critical services regulated by NJBPU include natural gas, electricity, water, wastewater, telecommunications and cable television. The Board has general oversight and responsibility for monitoring utility service, responding to consumer complaints, and investigating utility accidents. To find out more about NJBPU, visit our website at


1 For a family of four:

  • 185% Federal Poverty Level is approximately $48,000 per year; and
  • 400% Federal Poverty Level is approximately $104,000 per year.

2 USF covers energy costs over the energy affordability threshold up to the cap.

3 Some utilities provide forgiveness quarterly.

4 Customers in the following protected categories are protected by WTP from November 15- March 15 each winter, but need to request this protection from their utility company: USF, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Lifeline Utility Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families; federal Supplemental Security Income; Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled; General Assistance benefits; or persons unable to pay their utility bills because of circumstances beyond their control. (N.J.S.A. 14:3-3A.5)