December 26, 2021
New Jersey residents concerned about the impending expiration of the state's utility shutoff moratorium have some more time to make arrangements for repayment, as Gov. Murphy signed off on legislation extending the ban until March 15, 2022.
The legislation, which was passed on Monday, allows residents of the Garden State to set up methods of payment on the balances of their electricity, water, and sewer bills.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many of our New Jersey families who are working hard to get their finances in order after a particularly difficult two years," Gov. Murphy said in a statement released by his office on Wednesday. "Through our extension of the utility shutoff grace period, we are giving customers an additional opportunity to work with their utility provider to enroll in an equitable payment option that ensures their critical, and in some cases live-preserving, services remain in operation."
The "grace period" on utility bill nonpayment was previously intended to expire via executive order by Gov. Murphy on Dec. 31.
"Any residential customer sewer or water service discontinuance, and any discontinuance of electric service" that occurs before the end of the extended grace period will be nullified, and service will be immediately restored, according to the text of the legislation.
Utility service providers must offer a payment plan before discontinuing service for any costs accrued through the duration of the grace period, and should allow a 12-month minimum payment arrangement, to allow residents ample time to pay back their utility balances without fear of utility shutoffs.
If utility providers arrange a repayment plan that is less than 12-months long, they must forgive at least 50% of the balance.
Residents who do not make payment arrangements with their utility providers waive their rights to these protections and can have their utilities shut off after March 15 if there is a remaining balance. Utility providers can institute interest charges and fees on balances from services provided prior to the Emergency Declaration on March 9, 2020.
All residents will eventually have to pay back the remaining balance of their bill, whether they elect to establish a payment plan with their utility provider or not, Cheryl Stowell, president and CEO of New Jersey SHARES, told WHYY.
Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez, one of the primary sponsors of the legislation notes that the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts have had a devastating effect on the lives of many New Jersey residents, adding that the extension will provide a much-needed "buffer for families who still have arrears" and allow them to work out a payment plan with their providers to avoid future shutoffs.
"No one should have to choose between paying their utilities and paying for other necessities such as food, housing, and medication," said Senator Cruz-Perez.
The legislation also includes changes to New Jersey's Winter Termination program, to include electricity and water as part of their public utility plan. The Winter Termination program prohibits regulated utility shutoffs from Nov. 15 until March 15 each year for eligible, low-income New Jersey residents, keeping them safe and warm throughout the winter months.
Additional information regarding the Winter Termination Program is available here.