Trenton – In an effort to help certain customers affected by the end of the Winter Termination Program utility moratorium on March 15th, the Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Senator Brian P. Stack, Senator Vin Gopal and Senator Linda Greenstein that would extend shutoff protection for residents waiting to hear back from the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) on whether their assistance application has been approved.
“Some utility companies have already started to shut off their customers’ utilities, so it is imperative that we act urgently to protect our residents in need of assistance,” said Senator Stack (D-Hudson). “According to the DCA, applicants who have difficulty submitting an application take 60 days on average to complete the process because of the need to submit various required documents. This bill would provide that all utility assistance applicants will be protected until June 15th, regardless if their application is pending or completed. This way, no one will have their services shut off while awaiting approval for assistance from the DCA.”
The bill, S-2356, would allow residents up to 60 days to complete their application after they have started the process. Under the bill, DCA would be required to submit a decision of approval or rejection within 90 days of receiving the application. Utility companies and the DCA would work together to verify that customers have actually submitted an application for utility assistance.
“Statewide, over 850,000 residential gas and electric customers collectively owe more than $660 million, much of which is due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “Residents should not be punished by having their utilities turned off while waiting to see if their assistance application is accepted. This legislation will provide DCA with the time to review the applications, while still protecting residents and preventing unnecessary shutoffs.”
Additionally, the bill would also add protections to residents who submit an application prior to June 15th.
“While COVID-19 cases have been improving, our residents are still reeling from the economic effects that the pandemic has brought on,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “It is evident that many of our residents will be greatly affected by the end of the Winter Termination Program and it is critical we do not turn our backs on them during this period. This bill would be a huge asset in providing additional assistance to our residents as we transition out of the pandemic.”
The bill was released from the Senate by a vote of 35-0.