NEW JERSEY – Governor Phil Murphy Friday signed legislation (S-2356) to extend the prohibition on utility shutoffs for certain residential customers with overdue utility payments who are waiting for a decision on their application for state assistance in paying off their utility bill arrearages.
“Over the past two years, we have implemented critical protections for residential utility customers in our state,” Murphy said. “As New Jersey continues on our road to recovery, we must provide ongoing support to residents who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This legislation will keep the lights on and water running for families who are still making their way through the process of obtaining assistance from our state.”
“Our hope is that this new law spurs people who need utility assistance to complete an application as soon as possible to avoid a utility shutoff. We significantly expanded income eligibility for assistance programs this year to reach more people, including even moderate-income households,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. “DCA will continue its outreach efforts alongside the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and utility companies to make sure as many people as possible know about the assistance programs and are able to submit an application prior to June 15th.”
The previous utility shutoff grace period, extended by the Governor under Executive Order No. 246 and codified under P.L.2021, c.317. for residential water, sewer, and municipal electric customers, ended on March 15, 2022. Certain residential customers of public gas and electric utilities were also protected through March 15 under the Winter Termination Program. This bill extends these protections by requiring local authorities, municipal or public utilities, and rural electric cooperatives to continue providing electric, gas, sewer or water service to residential customers who have submitted an application for utility assistance prior to June 15, 2022 but have not yet received a determination.
Residential customers will be protected for 60 days after initiating a utility assistance application to the applicable state agency, and if they complete their application in this time, will be protected until the state agency makes a decision on the application. The Department of Community Affairs (DCA), Department of Human Services (DHS), Board of Public Utilities (BPU) or any other state agency administering a utility assistance program will notify utility service providers of the customers who have applied for an assistance program and are eligible for this grace period while awaiting their application determination.
Liens also cannot be placed, sold or enforced on the property of a residential customer for unpaid utility bills while the applicable state agency determines the customer’s application for assistance. Customers will also be eligible for a 12-month interest-free deferred payment plan if they are denied assistance or if the assistance does not cover the full amount of their unpaid bills.
“The COVID pandemic has been devastating in many ways, including economic hardship for families due to the loss of a job or a reduction in income, leaving many being unable to pay their utility bills,” said NJBPU President Joseph L. Fiordaliso. “I commend Governor Murphy and New Jersey legislators who expanded protections for customers. The BPU will continue to work with the utilities on incorporating these changes.”
“The prohibition on utility assistance cut-offs has been invaluable to many residents during a challenging time, and while we hope for continued improved conditions, many still need this help,” said DHS Commissioner Sarah Adelman. “I thank the Governor for signing this bill and the bill sponsors for advocating for it. It will be immensely helpful to many residents in need.”
The primary sponsors of the legislation include Senators Brian Stack, Vin Gopal and Linda Greenstein, as well as Assembly members Raj Mukherji, Cleopatra Tucker, Paul Moriarty and Britnee N. Timberlake.