MORRIS COUNTY — Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order No. 190, extending a moratorium preventing New Jersey residents from having their utilities disconnected through at least March 15, 2021. The moratorium applies to all residential gas, electric, and water utilities, both public and private. Further, the utilities will not be charging late fees nor fees to reconnect services that have been disconnected. The Order also requires that all residential services that were disconnected after social distancing measures went into effect on March 16 be reconnected. The Governor and legislative leadership further announced that $15 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund will be allocated to assisting low-income households in paying off utility arrearages.
“New Jerseyans are hurting and many of our fellow state residents, who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic need help,” said Governor Murphy. “Extending the utility moratorium is the right thing to do as so many in our state struggle to pay their bills during one of the most devastating economic crises in the history of our country. As we enter the winter months it becomes even more imperative that we work with our state’s utilities keep the lights on and families warm.”
“Thank you to the Governor and to the utilities for taking an important step today to protect New Jersey residents who are facing dire financial circumstances and are unable to pay their utility bills,” said Board of Public Utilities President Joseph L. Fiordaliso. “Now, nobody will fear losing service during the winter months. Please know as well that assistance and deferred payment programs are available to prevent bills from piling up over time. Help is here for those who need it.”
In addition to extending the Internet disconnection moratorium to November 15, cable and telecommunications providers are prohibited from disconnecting Internet service in households that have one or more school-age children that may be using such service for educational purposes. Also, if a household experiences a change of circumstances where school-age children will be using their home Internet service for school, the cable and telecommunications company will be required to reconnect that Internet service.
After November 15, cable and telecommunications providers are required to enroll customers with an already existing account in an interest-free payment plan of at least 12 equal monthly installments, including the balance already due, prior to disconnecting the customer’s service.
Although the moratorium is being extended, utility customers are still encouraged to set up payment plans with their utilities so they can begin paying their bills, if they are able, over a period of time. Utility customers are also urged to apply for the assistance programs that are available at both the Board of Public Utilities and the Department of Community Affairs and from their utilities.
Additionally, the Governor partnered with legislative leadership to set aside $15 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund so that the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) can reduce utility arrearages. DCA will use a portion of the funds to address arrearages among low-income households who are current Universal Service Fund (USF) participants. USF serves low-income families (Income below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level) who need assistance with electric and natural gas bills.
“Protecting the most vulnerable households in our state during this pandemic is a priority,” continued Governor Murphy. “I am proud to announce that in partnering with Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Coughlin, as well as legislative leadership, we have allocated $15 million in CRF funding to reduce utility arrearages for low-income households in New Jersey.”
“We insisted that this funding be included in the budget because we won’t allow for utility shut-offs that would deny New Jersey residents vital electric, heat, and water services,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “A sudden loss of power and utilities would create disruptive and even dangerous conditions for families, individuals, and small businesses who are enduring more than enough financial hardship caused by the pandemic. The economic consequences of the Covid crisis are having a severe impact on their ability to afford utility bills. The extended moratorium is especially important for families with children who need power supplies to participate in remote learning at home. Utilities are a necessity that should not be lost to those in need.”
“Throughout the budget process, one of our major priorities was to provide money to help families who have been hit hard by the pandemic and fallen behind on their utility payments,” said Senate President Pro Tempore M. Teresa Ruiz. “We were able to include $15 million to reduce what is owed and help individuals around the state become current on their gas, electric, and water bills. By extending the shut-off moratorium and funding forgiveness programs we can offer a comprehensive approach to ensure residents are not left in the dark, as they work towards greater financial stability.”
“As we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, too many of our neighbors are struggling with the negative financial impact caused by the coronavirus,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. “Helping those in need pay their utility bills doesn’t just keep the lights on, it will mean many residents will not have to choose between paying their gas and electric bills or putting a nutritious meal on the table. I thank the Governor and Senate President for their partnership in this initiative.”
For a copy of Executive Order No. 190, please click here.