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​​​​​​​​Welcome to the LSNJLAWSM website, provided by Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ). LSNJ is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit offering free legal advice to low-income people in New Jersey. Find legal information by clicking on a legal topic or typing a few words into the search box. ​

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Utilities
Help With Your Utility Bills: New Jersey’s Enhanced COVID-19 Energy Assistance Programs
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Heating and cooling assistance programs will help many utility customers avoid the risk of shut-offs in 2022 and beyond. If you have arrears that have built up, or are facing hardships in making your current electric, gas, or oil payments, applying for the new and improved assistance programs that are available this year can make a big difference. Since a lot is changing in the programs, there may be some new things to get used to in the application process.

ELECTRIC AND GAS ASSISTANCE  OVERVIEW

The Universal Service Fund (USF) and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) are two programs that work together. There is a single application system for both programs, and some of the biggest COVID-19-related changes are in these programs. For the two-year period from October 1, 2021, until September 30, 2023, many more customers will be eligible for USF and LIHEAP assistance than in the past, and many of the benefit amounts will be higher. Another program, called Lifeline, can also provide assistance with energy bills to seniors and people with disabilities.

You can apply for USF and LIHEAP online directly through the USF/LIHEAP Online Application Portal. You can also apply through a local community action agency or community-based organization in your area. If you need help finding an agency that accepts applications, call 1-800-510-3102 or visit New Jersey Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Universal Service Fund (USF).  You can also get a copy of the USF/LIHEAP application form​ on the NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) website.

Unless you are automatically enrolled from another program, you have to file a new USF/LIHEAP application each year, even if you received benefits before.

Some applicants for food stamps, PAAD, Lifeline Energy Assistance, and Medicare Part D are automatically screened for USF benefits and/or enrolled in LIHEAP and do not have to fill out a separate USF/LIHEAP application. In general, this is done for applicants who are eligible for the other program, who pay for heat, and who live in a household that includes only members who are considered in determining eligibility for both programs. If you are not sure whether you have been considered for USF and LIHEAP benefits, call the USF/LIHEAP program information number above to find out whether you should submit a USF/LIHEAP application.

UNIVERSAL SERVICE FUND (USF)

USF provides two key types of benefits: a monthly USF credit on your bill, and Fresh Start arrearage forgiveness.

Both of these types of USF benefits will be expanded for the two-year period from October 1, 2021, until September 30, 2023, in the following ways:

  • The income limits for the USF program will more than double, to 400% of the federal poverty level, as shown in the chart above.
  • The amount of the USF credit for eligible customer will increase each month, which means the amount the customer has to pay will be less.
  • Fresh Start arrearage forgiveness will be available to every new USF recipient who meets the income limits in the chart above. This means that every new USF customer will have the opportunity to erase all of their electric and gas arrears by paying their next 12 monthly bills, with the USF credit applied, within 15 months.

The USF program assists customers of the seven New Jersey gas and electric public utility companies:

  • Public Service Electric & Gas Company (PSE&G)
  • Atlantic City Electric
  • Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L)
  • Rockland Electric Company
  • New Jersey Natural Gas Company
  • South Jersey Gas Company
  • Elizabethtown Gas Company

During the two years of expanded USF benefits, all customers who are eligible for assistance based on the income limits in the chart above will receive a monthly credit and may also be eligible for Fresh Start arrearage forgiveness.

USF/LIHEAP Monthly Income Eligibility Chart 2022/2023
If your monthly gross income is at or below the levels in this USF/LIHEAP chart,
you should be eligible for USF and/or LIHEAP assistance.

  Household  
Size

USF
  Program  

LIHEAP
  Program  

1

$4,293

$3,348

2

$5,807

$4,379

3

$7,320

$5,409

4

$8,833

$6,439

5

$10,347

$7,470

6

$11,860

$8,500

7

$13,373

$8,693

8

$14,887

$8,886

9

$16,400

$9,080

10

$17,913

$9,273

11

$19,427

$9,466

12

$20,940

$9,659

For each additional person

add $1,513

add $193


How does the USF monthly credit work?

USF assistance reduces your utility bill every month. Each customer receiving USF assistance gets a monthly credit. The credit is based on an estimate of the amount of energy the household will use in the next year. Usually, this estimate reflects past energy use at the same property.

As noted above, if you apply for USF now, and your household income is at or below 400% of the federal poverty guidelines, you will automatically receive a monthly credit on your utility bill. (Note: The name on the application must be the same as the name on your utility bill.)

During the two years of expanded USF benefits, all eligible customers will get a monthly credit on their utility bills of at least $5. You will get a larger monthly credit, up to $180 per month, if your expected utility costs over the next year will be

  • More than 2% of your household income for electric service,
  • More than 2% of your household income for natural gas, or
  • More than 4% of your household income for all-electric heat customers.

Your utility company will automatically subtract the amount of your USF credit from your utility bill each month. It’s that simple!

What if I have overdue bills?

You can erase existing bills if you have past-due electric or gas charges over $60 the first time you qualify for USF after October 1, 2021,. This part of the program is called Fresh Start. USF will forgive your outstanding balance if you simply keep up with your current monthly bills for one year after you begin to receive a USF credit under the expanded program.

You should be placed in the Fresh Start program automatically. Your utility company cannot disconnect your service for nonpayment of overdue bills that are part of the Fresh Start program.

If you miss monthly payments during the year you are on Fresh Start, your utility company should send you reminder letters. This will give you a chance to catch up.

You will have three more months at the end of the initial 12-month period to make up any missed payments. Each customer gets just one 12-month period (with a three-month grace period at the end) in which to get rid of overdue bills.

Will my utility bills be the same each month on USF?

Only if you are on your utility company’s budget billing plan. Then, the utility company will charge you a flat amount each month, based on its estimate of your household’s annual usage, less your monthly USF credit.

But, there may still be surprises. Your actual gas or electric usage will probably turn out to be different from the amount the utility estimated. If that is the case, your bill will be adjusted to reflect the difference. This process of “truing up” should take place at least once every six months.

The beginning of the heating season can be a good time to get on a budget billing plan, because the budget billing plan will spread some heating costs into the following summer. There is no effect on LIHEAP or USF eligibility or benefits.

If you do not join your utility’s budget billing plan, your bill will vary from month to month. It will reflect the amount of your utility use each month, less your USF credit.

The good news is that either way, if you use less energy, you will have to pay less. But you will have to pay more if you use more energy than estimated.

One thing that you can do to keep costs down is to contact your local weatherization program office to find out if you are eligible for free improvements to your home. For more information about applying for weatherization assistance, contact the state USF/LIHEAP hotline at 1-800-510-3102, or contact the LSNJLAWSM at www.lsnjlawhotline.org or 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529).

Are there any other limits on USF benefits?

There are two other limits to the amount of a recipient’s USF credit. One limit is that the largest credit a customer can receive is $180 each month, or $2,160 each year. The other is that all customers must pay at least $8 per month, even if that is more than 4% of their income.

If one of these limits causes a hardship for you, call the Board of Public Utilities, Division of Customer Assistance, at 1-800-624-0241, and contact the LSNJ LAWSM Hotline at www.lsnjlawhotline.org or 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529) to let us know that this is the case. There may be additional sources of assistance that can help, and it is important to let the board know that these limits can cause hardships.

THE LIHEAP PROGRAM

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides an annual heating assistance grant during the heating season and, in some cases, other one-time grants. The income eligibility limits for the LIHEAP program have been raised to 60% of New Jersey’s state median income for the next two years—as high as they are allowed to go under federal law. The increased LIHEAP eligibility limits are shown in the USF/LIHEAP Income Eligibility Chart.

Who is eligible for LIHEAP?

LIHEAP covers more households than USF. You can be eligible for LIHEAP

  • No matter what fuel source you use (oil, propane, and wood heat, for example, are included),
  • If you are a customer of a municipal electric company or the Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative, and
  • If you are a tenant with utilities included in your rent.

To be eligible for LIHEAP benefits, you must be responsible for home heating or cooling costs. This means either that you pay utility bills yourself, or that your utilities are included in the rent. You must also have gross income below 60% of the state median income (see USF/LIHEAP Income Eligibility Chart for monthly income guidelines). While almost all income received by anyone in the household is counted, some is not. For example, most income received by a full-time student is not counted. Also excluded are payments received from SNAP (food stamps), or from other energy assistance programs, such as Lifeline.

How do LIHEAP benefits work?

LIHEAP provides single-payment grants to help with energy costs. The amount of the basic LIHEAP heating benefit varies from about $100 to more than $1,000, based on income, household size, fuel type, and heating region. Benefits are highest for homeowners with electric heat, or who heat with oil, propane, wood, and other “deliverable” fuels. See the LIHEAP Benefit Grid (from the NJ Department of Community Affairs) for a chart of LIHEAP benefit levels.

How are LIHEAP benefits paid?

If your home is heated with natural gas or electricity, you may have your LIHEAP payment sent directly to the utility company. Otherwise, in most cases, a two-party check (made out to you and to your fuel supplier) will be sent to you. If your heat is included in the rent, your check will be made out directly to you.

I live in public housing. Can I still get LIHEAP assistance?

People who live in public housing and/or receive rental assistance are only eligible for LIHEAP if they pay their own utility costs directly to the utility company.

LIHEAP Emergency Crisis and Medically Necessary Cooling Assistance

LIHEAP can sometimes provide additional emergency assistance if you have no heat or are in danger of losing your heat, and don’t have enough money to solve the problem yourself. You may be able to get help with an emergency fuel delivery or have utility service restored. If you are a homeowner, you may be able to get emergency help to fix your furnace. A tenant who pays for utilities can get assistance for emergency help to restart a furnace. In some energy-related emergencies, LIHEAP can even provide temporary shelter or help in preventing an eviction.

Above and beyond heating assistance, an eligible household that shows a medical need can receive an additional LIHEAP grant to help with summer cooling costs.
For more information about USF and LIHEAP, call 1-866-240-1347, visit Energy Assistance​ (from the NJ Department of Community Affairs), or contact the LSNJLAWSM Hotline at www.lsnjlawhotline.org or 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529).

LIFELINE ENERGY ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

“Lifeline” refers to three different state programs for seniors and people with disabilities:

  • Lifeline Credit Program,
  • Tenants’ Lifeline Assistance Program, and
  • Special Utility Supplement.

How does Lifeline work?

You can be eligible for the Lifeline Credit Program or Tenants’ Lifeline Assistance Program if you are a residential electric or gas customer or a tenant with utilities included in the rent, and are in one of the following categories:

  • You receive Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged, Blind and Disabled (PAAD);
  • You meet the eligibility requirements for PAAD;
  • You receive Medical Assistance to the Aged (MAA);
  • You receive Medical Assistance Only (MAO); or
  • You receive New Jersey Care (NJ Medicaid based on your age or disability).

The Lifeline Credit Program makes a one-time payment, currently $225, on a yearly basis toward an eligible customer’s gas and electric bill. If you receive service from two different utility companies, then the benefit is split between the two.

The Tenants’ Lifeline Assistance Program provides a $225 check to tenants who have gas and electric costs included in the rent.

The Special Utility Supplement is for SSI recipients who are not eligible for Lifeline Credit or Tenants’ Lifeline Assistance. The yearly supplement is divided into monthly installments and is added to the recipient’s SSI check. The current supplement is $18.75 per month.

How do I apply for Lifeline?

People applying for PAAD also apply for a Lifeline benefit by answering the questions that pertain to Lifeline programs.

Beneficiaries of Medical Assistance to the Aged (MAA), Medical Assistance Only (MAO), or New Jersey Care are sent Lifeline applications automatically every August.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients do not need to file an application for Lifeline. The Lifeline benefit is automatically included in your monthly SSI payment.
For more information about Lifeline, call 1-800-792-9745, visit Lifeline​ (from the NJ Department of Human Services), or contact the LSNJLAWSM Hotline at www.lsnj lawhotline.org or 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529).

OTHER SOURCES OF ASSISTANCE

Two additional programs are providing an expanded range of utility assistance programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They both provide financial assistance to eligible utility customers when funds are available in the programs they administer, and can help customers to complete applications.

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11/29/2022