New Jersey Governor Signs Bill to Protect Low-Income Families from Water Service Disconnection Due to Unpaid Balances
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has signed a bill that prohibits water utility providers that have not signed up to participate in the state’s Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) from taking certain collection actions against customers with arrearages.
New Legislation for Water Utility Providers
The legislation prohibits water utilities from assessing interest on arrearages, discontinuing services, or placing, selling, or enforcing a lien for unpaid balances if the utility provider has not signed the vendor contract required to receive LIHWAP payments.
The LIHWAP program provides benefits directly to water and wastewater providers on behalf of residential customers to help those who are in danger of disconnection, have past due balances, or are at risk of falling behind. The program is funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services and administered by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA), according to a published article in INSIDER NJ.
What Does the New Bill Require?
In a published article in New Jersey Monitor, the bill requires water and sewer service providers to provide notice about the LIHWAP program on every bill and written communication to a customer, and on their website, and provides disconnection protection for customers who have been approved by DCA to participate in the program.
It also requires utility providers to provide customer arrearage data to DCA, which must treat this information as confidential, to facilitate DCA’s administration of the program. The legislation will take effect immediately and will remain in place until September 30, 2023.
Prime Sponsors of Water Utility Bill?
The legislation’s prime sponsors are Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez and Assemblyman Bill Moen, who believe that low-income families and working people who have struggled through the pandemic should not be forced to choose between food on the table or paying their water bills, especially when there is a program designed to help.
DCA continues to urge New Jersey residents to apply for the LIHWAP program, with eligibility requirements that the total gross household income must be at or below 60% of the state median income ($6,662 a month for a family of four), and the LIHWAP applications are reviewed on a rolling basis and assistance is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis so applicants should not wait to apply.