Downey Bill to Help Seniors & Low-Income Residents Pay Water Utilities Advances

Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Monmouth) to help seniors and low-income residents pay their water utility bills was advanced by an Assembly panel on Thursday.

“New Jersey has one of the highest costs of living in the country so state assistance for utility bills can be a crucial lifeline to help ease this burden,” said Downey. “Water is just as vital of a utility as gas and electric so it only makes sense to extend this benefit to help struggling residents make ends meet.”

The bill (A-4168) would add assistance for water utility bills to the Lifeline Credit Program and the Tenants’ Lifeline Assistance Program. Under existing law, these programs provide a $225 benefit only on gas and electric utility bills to eligible customers who are participating in the Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled Program (PAAD), receiving or eligible to receive benefits under the Supplemental Security Income program, or receiving disability benefits under the federal Social Security Act and also meet eligibility requirements for PAAD.

Under existing law, in the event that electric and gas are provided to the same customer by two separate utilities, half of the total annual credit is applied to the bills from each such utility. This bill amends that requirement to account for the inclusion of a third utility, water.

In doing so, the bill would also provide for one-third of the total annual Lifeline Credit to be applied to the gas, electric, and water utility bills of the customer. In the event that electric and gas are provided to the same customer by the same utility, two- thirds the total annual credit would be applied to the combined bills from such utility.

Downey noted that surrounding areas have implemented similar programs recently. In 2014, New York City introduced the Home Water Assistance Program that provides a credit in the amount of $115.89 to low-income, senior citizen, and disabled homeowners. In Philadelphia, customers delinquent on utility bills, including water bills, may apply for a Utility Grant.

Under existing law, the Commissioner of Human Services is required to submit an annual report to the Legislature on the Lifeline Credit Program. The report includes an estimate of the practicability and feasibility of expanding the program to include other needy electric and gas customers. This bill would include the needs of water utility customers in that annual report.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Human Services Committee and would take effect six months following enactment.