The COVID-19 pandemic has had a drastic economic impact on low and middle-income residents throughout the state. To help the people of New Jersey access the financial relief they need, the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee advanced legislation on Monday that would require utility companies to notify customers of any available forgiveness or repayment programs.
Sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Lisa Swain and Christopher Tully, the measure (A-4671) would require public and local utility companies to notify their residential customers about bill payment assistance available during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, major utility companies agreed to the Governor’s several-month moratorium on utility shutoffs in New Jersey. The moratorium was recently extended through March 15, 2021, to ensure no resident loses access to their utilities, even if they cannot currently pay for the service(s).
“This pandemic has upended the lives of struggling families across New Jersey, leaving them unable to pay for life-sustaining services,” said Assemblyman Schaer (D-Bergen, Passaic). “The moratorium will guarantee that every resident of our State will have uninterrupted access to these services, and this legislation will provide families a path forward as we work towards a complete economic recovery.”
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 1.6 million New Jersey residents have had to file for unemployment due to mass layoffs and business closures. This has exacerbated the financial hardships of medical bills due to COVID-19 and the increased cost of services and products.
“This is an undeniably challenging time for many New Jerseyans, as our state sees unprecedented levels of unemployment and an increased cost of living due to a worldwide public health emergency,” said Assemblywoman Swain (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Utility bills are a significant financial obligation that will eventually need to be repaid, which is why we must inform residents about the repayment options available to them.”
The bill mandates that utility companies must include information in the notification regarding the moratorium in effect as well as available deferred bill payment agreement, bill payment assistance and arrearage forgiveness programs. The notification would need to be sent out on a quarterly basis until 18 months after the current state of emergency concludes.
“Residents are going to need all the help they can get to recover from this pandemic as our state works toward achieving long-term financial stability,” said Assemblyman Tully (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Receiving important information both during and after this crisis about utility repayment and forgiveness programs will make a big difference in a family’s ability to handle their finances going forward.”
The legislation now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.