WEST NEW YORK, New Jersey (WABC) -- The winter moratorium on utility disconnections has ended in New Jersey, meaning that starting Wednesday, 275,000 customers are at risk of getting their utilities service shut off for non-payment.
But if you're staring down a big bill, there's some good news: 7 On Your Side's Nina Pineda has the steps to save you from a shutoff.
PSE&G customer Loida Pena panicked when she got a shutoff notice for her mom Josephina's apartment in West New York.
The outstanding bill's big balance was due...or else.
"She can't afford $3,000 a month," she said. "She's on fixed income."
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She thought she applied to the state for relief last year on the overdue bill, which has been building up over two years.
New Jersey's Department of Community services says it's paid out a total of $83.5 million in assistance, roughly $368 per struggling family.
"Throughout the pandemic, we didn't shut off anyone even if they weren't paying their bill," utility spokesperson Rebecca Mazzarella said.
Mazzarella says the number of customers seeking help at its 16 in-person customer service centers tripled after they reopened this week.
But Wednesday morning in North Bergen, despite a two-year campaign to make customers aware they may be able to receive an average benefit of $2,500 to $3,000 toward their service, only a few were taking advantage.
"Right now, it's critically urgent they reach out to us to protect their utility service," Mazzarella said.
Representatives are on site from various agencies to help defer, make payment plans, and apply for forgiveness.
Julio Garcia works with P.A.C.O., the Puertorriquenos Asociados for Community Organization, a non-profit community-based bilingual organization that provides vital social services to the communities of Hudson County.
"I think the pandemic added to what was already a burden in their homes," he said.
To qualify for the state's Universal Services Fund, a family of four with income of $105,000 is eligible.
Two in a family earning less than $69,000 qualifies.
"She's sick," Pena said of her mother. "She has rheumatoid arthritis."
She says her mom is eligible, but the problem is her application for bill forgiveness was never received.
"Not having lights and electricity, she's going to be homeless," she said.
So when she got the shutoff notice, she called 7 On Your Side.
"I said, 'I'm calling Nina Pineda, I need to bring this out,'" she said.
We worked with both PSE&G and P.A.C.O. to get Josephina an emergency 90-day extension.
"She may also be eligible for a debt forgiveness program called Fresh Start," Mazzarella said.
If you're facing shutoff, make sure you call your utility make a payment plan. Also, apply for assistance and inform utility you applied, providing a record number to avoid shutoff.
"This is like fantasy or dream come true," Pena said. "I love it. Everyone call 7 On Your Side."
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