Ruiz Advances Legislation to Promote Assistance Programs, Track Utility Shut Offs, and Fees

Trenton – Legislation sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore M. Teresa Ruiz to promote utility financial assistance programs and increase data collection and transparency surrounding public utilities, passed the Senate Economic Growth Committee today. 
“In addition to the lives COVID-19 has taken, it has severely impacted the finances of New Jersey households,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Thousands of residents are behind on their utility payments, likely unsure of how they will pay back what is due and anxious about what will happen once the moratorium is lifted. It is crucial that individuals know their rights and the services that are available to help them. It is not only in their best interest but also to the advantage of the utility so they can begin applying for assistance before the moratorium expires and prevent widespread utility shut-offs.”
The bill, S-3326, would require public and local utility companies to inform customers of their rights and relief measures available to help pay their utility bills during the COVID-19 pandemic and for 18 months following the end of the public health emergency.
A second bill, S-3335, would require the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), in consultation with the Department of Community Affairs, to prepare and submit a written report containing findings and recommendations concerning the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on local utility and public utility service to commercial and residential customers in the state. 
“These issues have always existed, but they have been compounded and brought to light by the realities of the pandemic. It is critical that both regulated and nonregulated utilities are transparent about how COVID-19 has impacted payments, rate increases, grants, and services,” said Senator Ruiz. “This legislation is necessary to demonstrate just how big the issue is and where funds are most needed, so we can properly direct aid and identify any policy gaps that need to be addressed.”
The report, which would be due 30 days after enactment, would include data outlining the number of total customers, how many applied for and how many received financial assistance, how many were charged late fees or disconnected, and differences in average and median bills from year to year. Following the initial report, the BPU would be required to continue collecting the relevant data and publishing the report on a quarterly basis.
The bills were both released from committee by votes of 5-0.