Less than a month before the end of the moratorium on utility cuts, more than a million customers are still not paying their gas and electricity bills, which is $ 821 million.

The moratorium ends on March 15, and, unlike in the past, its extension is not expected. “I think that’s all. “There will be no extensions,” said Joseph Fiardalis, president of the New Jersey Public Services Council.

Since the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost as businesses closed after restrictions were imposed due to COVID-19. The number of people lagging behind in gas and electricity bills has grown and continues to grow.

“The problem isn’t gone,” said Evelyn Liebman, deputy director of AARP New Jersey. “It really reflects the impact of COVID-19 and the economic devastation it has caused.”

“Surprisingly,” so few people sought help

As New Jersey is set to enter the third year of fighting this pandemic, a very worrying aspect for its utilities is that few customers have turned to them or government agencies for help, especially given that state and federal dollars have greatly expanded the bank of money available in energy assistance programs for those who lag behind in their accounts.

According to Bob Brabston, executive director of BPU, so far only $ 10 million has been spent out of the $ 250 million allocated by the Murphy administration to help utility customers deal with unpaid bills. Why are so few people seeking help from stump officials.

“It’s surprising,” admitted Fiardalis, who suggested that people are waiting for the last minute to solve the problem.

According to the representative, less than 10% of their customers, who now have debts on their accounts, turned to the utilities of Electric & Gas. The company has 275,000 customers with delayed accounts for more than 90 days. These customers are most at risk of losing services on March 15, said Rebecca Mozzarella, a spokeswoman.

Apparently, PSE&G is not alone. “I understand that all utilities have this problem,” said Brian Lipman, director of the New Jersey Tariff Division, which represents payers ’interests. “It’s definitely a big problem.”

How big? According to the latest information from the BPU, more than 400,000 household customers are five to six months behind on gas and electricity bills. Lipman argues that these customers typically face other bills after falling behind on utility bills, including car bills as well as water and sewer bills.

Utility assistance

There are programs that can alleviate customer difficulties, including monthly payments to help those who fall behind in their accounts repay debts. This helped Ahmiere Mincy get out of the financial pit.

Mincy, who lives in Newark, lost her job as a clinical manager in March 2021. He quickly applied for unemployment but did not start receiving a check until the summer. “It’s been a tough five months,” he said. “Everything went up and nothing went.”

He contacted the PSE & G service center and found the necessary help. He received $ 30 a month to pay for electricity bills, and $ 5 a month for gas bills from the State Universal Service Fund. Under the program, eligible customers pay no more than 2% of their gas bills and 2% of their electricity bills. In addition, Minsey received a one-time grant of $ 360 from the federal program to power low-income homes.

The state’s Fresh Start program also provides assistance to clients who have debt. Under this program, customers who agree to pay their utility bills within one year can see how to destroy the rest of their debt. “It’s one of the best programs in the country,” Liebman said.

Even if you are not eligible for such assistance, those who are in arrears should turn to utilities that will try to set up a payment program that the customer can afford, Fiardalis said.

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