STATE—PSE&G is urging residents who may have recently lost their jobs, or are now working fewer hours because of the economic downturn, to see if they now qualify for assistance in paying their utility bills.
The federal Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is being funded at dramatically increased levels over last year, and money is available to help thousands of people pay their heating bills this winter. During this period of major economic uncertainty and with a $77 million increase in funding available, existing LIHEAP households will receive a larger benefit and many more households will be able to participate in the program for the first time.
“Since eligibility for LIHEAP benefits is based on last month’s income, people who may not have qualified before might now be able to take advantage of these critical benefits,” said Eileen Leahey, manager of PSE&G’s payment assistance outreach. “We are partnering with state government and community based organizations in an extensive effort to ensure that much needed assistance reaches every person eligible to receive it.”
New Jersey’s LIHEAP program budget is $185.7 million, ranking it seventh nationwide in terms of dollars available to help at-risk utility customers. The average benefit for gas will increase to $387. The average electric benefit will increase to $358. Families whose heating bill is included in their rent will receive an average increase to $341. The medically necessary cooling benefit will increase to $200 from $100.
“Residents can pick up an application at one of PSE&G’s 16 customer service centers,” Leahey said. LIHEAP is designed to help low-income families and individuals meet home heating and medically necessary cooling costs. The program comes to New Jersey as a Federal Block Grant. National funding this year is $5.1 billion, an unprecedented increase over the $2.57 billion provided last season.
To be eligible for LIHEAP benefits, an applicant must be responsible for home heating, either directly or if the cost is included in rent, and have gross income below 225 percent of the federal poverty level. This would equate to a family of four with monthly income of $3,975 or annual income of $47,700. In addition to income, the amount of the benefit is determined by household size, fuel type, and heating region.
New Jersey residents may also be eligible for other programs that can provide a helping hand during this period of economic uncertainty. The Universal Service Fund (USF) is available to low income customers, and the NJ Lifeline Credit Program, available to eligible disabled adults and low income elderly, provides a $225 yearly credit toward a customer’s electric or gas bill.
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