October 3, 2012 - New Jersey residents who are wondering what they can do to manage the cost of home heating this winter can dial 2-1-1 to find out about programs that may be able to help them. NJ 2-1-1, a free and confidential information and referral service, available around the clock in New Jersey and many other states, was recently asked to serve as the state's Home Energy Assistance and Universal Service Fund Hotline. By calling 2-1-1, residents can learn the eligibility criteria and local application sites for the state's several energy assistance programs, including LIHEAP and the Universal Service Fund.
"Utility assistance is the number one reason people have called us for help over the past seven years. It was natural that we would want to expand our ability to help by adding access to these very important energy assistance programs through the 2-1-1 dialing code," explained Laura Zink Marx, executive director of NJ 2-1-1. "It can be confusing and frustrating to the consumer when trying to figure out where to turn. NJ 2-1-1 can help unravel the options."
One application covers the three low-income utility assistance programs in New Jersey, LIHEAP, the USF (Universal Service Fund) and the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). Applications for LIHEAP are accepted beginning October 1 this year and continue through April 30, 2013. USF and weatherization applications are accepted all year round. Additionally, NJ Shares offers energy assistance grants to middle income residents.
Through LIHEAP residents can reduce home heating and medically necessary cooling costs. Those eligible for the program must be responsible for their own heating expenses and have an income that is less than 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines (FPG), which for a household of four is $46,100 annually. LIHEAP can help those eligible catch up on overdue utility bills or bills for deliverable fuel.
USF is designed to lower the amount paid for gas and electricity and is available to residents earning less than 175 percent of the FPG ($40,338 for a household of four), and paying more than 3 percent of their annual income on electric or gas, or more than 6 percent if they have electric heat. Only customers of New Jersey's seven regulated natural gas and electric companies are eligible for USF. The WAP provides free comprehensive energy conservation improvements to home owners whose income falls below 200 percent of the FPG, resulting in lower energy consumption and increased savings overall.
If a caller does not meet the eligibility criteria for these programs, staff will search the NJ 2-1-1 database of over 5,900 providers and more than 13,400 services to find other local resources that may be able to help.
The Home Energy Assistance hotline is just one of the initiatives that NJ 2-1-1 has undertaken in recent years. The organization serves as New Jersey's Addiction Services Hotline; does the initial screening for the state's Kinship Navigator program; works closely with VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters) and NJ Office of Emergency Management in disaster preparedness, response and recovery; and much more. NJ 2-1-1 is supported by the United Ways of NJ in partnership with the State of New Jersey.
Source: NJ 211, newspapers