Senate clears bill that encourages participation in state water assistance program
NEW JERSEY – The Senate approved legislation sponsored by Senator Kristin Corrado that would help more struggling households to get assistance with their water bills.
“Today’s Senate vote advancing this legislation puts a plan in place to get unspent relief funds to water customers who need help. The federal government provided $24 million dollars to fund the state’s Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, but more than $17 million of that remains unspent,” Corrado said. “That’s because most water and sewer companies in New Jersey do not participate in the assistance program which prevents customers from benefiting from this federal aid. By boosting participation in the program, we can help more eligible homeowners before reaching the September deadline.”
The Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) is a federal program established under the American Rescue Plan to provide financial assistance to water service providers who service low- and medium-income households that have fallen behind on their payments.
At the state level, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) is responsible for administering the program and has until September to distribute the remaining funds. To receive funds, however, water service providers must enter a vendor contract with the DCA.
Senator Corrado’s bill, S-3333, requires water companies to participate in the program and temporarily prohibits water service providers from taking certain actions against a household for unpaid bills.
Under the bill, water service providers who fail to participate in the program or do not allow eligible customers to receive assistance would be prohibited from shutting off water services for customers who have fallen behind on their payments until October 1, 2023. Additionally, local authorities and municipal utilities who do not participate in the program would be prohibited from placing a lien on a customer’s property to satisfy an overdue balance.
Water service providers would also be instructed to inform customers of their eligibility to participate in the LIHWAP through customer bills, posting on the water utility’s website, and through any written communication in connection to an unpaid bill. The bill also requires the DCA to send bi-weekly reports to water service providers regarding customer applications until the LIHWAP program is terminated.
Any company, local authority, or municipal utility that violates these prohibitions or other provisions included in the bill would be subject to a monetary penalty.
“The state continues to sit on billions of unspent federal relief dollars instead of getting it into the hands of those who need help, including with their water bills,” Corrado said. “This legislation establishes a plan to provide assistance to water customers in New Jersey. Struggling families shouldn’t be at the mercy of their water company’s decision to participate in this valuable assistance program.”