TRENTON, NJ -- Governor Phil Murphy signed an Executive Order Thursday to extend the moratorium on all private and public utility providers, including gas, electric, and water, from turning off services to homes impacted economically by the COVID-19 virus through at least March 15, 2021.
Murphy's order also prevents the state's utilities from charging late fees or fees to reconnect services that have were disconnected after social distancing measures went into effect on March 16.
“New Jerseyans are hurting and many of our fellow state residents, who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic need help,” Murphy said. “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.”
Board of Public Utilities President Joseph L. Fiordaliso thanked Murphy for taking the action on behalf of "residents who are facing dire financial circumstances and are unable to pay their utility bills,” adding that “Now, nobody will fear losing service during the winter months." Assistance and deferred payment programs are available to prevent bills from piling up over time, Fiordaliso added.
Noting that New Jersey was among the hardest hit states in the beginning of the pandemic, Tom Churchelow, President of the New Jersey Utilities Association (NJUA), reflected that his organization’s members voluntarily suspended utility shut offs for non-payments back in March and have connected struggling customers with assistance programs and deferred payment opportunities since that time.
Further, he said, the 13 investor-owned member utilities have also donated PPE from their own stockpiles while still protecting their workforce and customers - all while continuing to provide safe, reliable and essential services.
“We applaud the Governor and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities for working with the industry to address the challenges faced by customers who are truly in need,” Churchelow said. “While we continue with the moratorium, we encourage customers to contact their utility about the new and enhanced payment and assistance plans that are available.”
Officials said that even with the moratorium extension utility customers are encouraged to set up payment plans with their utilities in order to at least portions of their bills over time and are urged to apply for the assistance programs that are available at both the Board of Public Utilities and the Department of Community Affairs, as well as from their utilities.
“Protecting the most vulnerable households in our state during this pandemic is a priority,” continued Murphy. “We have allocated $15 million in CRF funding to reduce utility arrearages for low income households in New Jersey.”
A moratorium on disconnecting internet service for nonpayment was also extended until November 15 and cable and telecommunications providers were prohibited from disconnecting internet service in households that have one or more school-age children that may be using such service for educational purposes.