(TRENTON) - The Department of the Treasury's Unclaimed Property Administration (UPA) announced a record $3.9 million contribution to help provide assistance to low and moderate income New Jersey households struggling to pay their utility bills. The aid – up from $3.6 million last year – supports the nonprofit Affordable Housing Alliance's efforts to assist families with utility costs.
"With energy prices on the rise and our pandemic recovery still ongoing, many families are struggling to keep the lights on and heaters running," said State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio. "Our Unclaimed Property Administration works tirelessly all year long to support their overarching mission of recovering and safeguarding funds for New Jersey residents. It's laudable that for two years in a row – during a global public health and economic crisis - UPA has been able to make record contributions to this critical initiative that helps families in need across New Jersey."
"New Jerseyans are feeling the crunch with rising energy costs and our Administration remains committed to helping people take care of any arrearages that could result in suspension of their services," said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. "This money will go a long way to help supplement the many utility assistance programs the State offers for home heating, cooling, and water and sewer bills."
Nearly 33 million people in the United States – 1 in every 10 – has unclaimed property (financial accounts or items of value in which the owner has not initiated any activity for a number of years). When that happens, and the company cannot locate the owner, the money or property is submitted to the state. Common examples include unpaid life insurance benefits, forgotten bank accounts, utility deposits, and unused rebate cards.
Under state statute, all funds received in unclaimed property deposits from electric and gas utilities are deposited into the Unclaimed Utility Deposits Trust Fund. Each year, 75 percent of those deposits received are issued to a statewide non-profit energy assistance organization designated by the Board of Public Utilities.
"As we near the end of the Winter Termination period on March 15, it is extremely important that those who owe money contact their utility to either set up a payment plan or to sign up for one of the many assistance programs offered by the state," said Joseph L. Fiordaliso, President, New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. "The Unclaimed Property Administration funds being made available by the State Treasury Department will be very helpful for those who have fallen behind on their bills during the COVID pandemic through no fault of their own."
"Utility costs often soar during the winter and summer months, and this year may bring even higher expenses due to rising inflation," said UPA Administrator Steve Harris. "I'm proud that UPA can help make a difference for families most in need of a helping hand."
State law stipulates that the funds must be used exclusively for the payment of expenses associated with the restoration of electric or gas service, or to prevent the termination of electric or gas service provided to utility ratepayers seeking energy assistance. The remaining portion is retained in the trust fund, administered and invested by the State Treasurer, and used to pay Unclaimed Property claims and expenses and costs incurred by the State of New Jersey.
The Affordable Housing Alliance (AHA) is a New Jersey-based private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation that has been providing housing and related relief to New Jersey residents for over 24 years. The Alliance manages several utility assistance programs, including PAGE and LIHEAP, helping low and moderate individuals and families who are seeking relief in paying their gas, electric, and oil bills.
"As the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end, residents of New Jersey continue to face unprecedented challenges when it comes to making ends meet. Having received more funds last year than any year prior, the AHA is working hard to ensure the unclaimed property dispositions that support the PAGE program are assisting low and moderate income families in need.'' said Randi Moore, AHA CEO. "With the utility moratorium ending this month, and the possibility of utility service disconnections for the first time since 2019, this program is more important than ever. The AHA is proud to be a resource in the community, and we thank the Department of the Treasury's Unclaimed Property Administration for continuing to support the PAGE program."
Applications for assistance can be found at: www.njpoweron.org.
Individuals are encouraged to search https://www.unclaimedproperty.nj.gov/ or unclaimed.org/search to determine if the state is holding their property. Users can search their name, a maiden name, or the name of a business or non-profit. The search is free.