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NJ SHARES President: Organization is a Utility Bill Safety Net

3-24-14

The ongoing cold weather means more money is being spent heating homes and some residents are having trouble affording their heating bills this year. NJ SHARES President and CEO Jim Jacob told NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider that his organization offers a safety net for residents throughout the state who cannot afford to pay their utility bills.

“New Jersey SHARES is a safety net organization that helps people pay their energy bills when they do not qualify for federal or state funded programs. It is for the modern income households and those who simply can’t afford to pay their bills for a lot of different reasons,” said Jacob.

Jacob said that in order to be helped, residents have to be delinquent in paying their bills, they have to have had a good faith payment history — which is counted as $100 over the last three months because that is a consistent effort to pay their bills — and at that point in time the organization will analyze based on income. The organization has a cap of 400 percent of poverty which varies by household size, Jacob said.

“We recognize that in New Jersey, sustainability for a family in many counties is 400 percent of poverty because the cost of housing is so high and the cost of energy is so high. So we have set that at 400 percent to try and provide that safety blanket for folks and we can help with up to $1,200 in the systems for electric and gas,” said Jacob.

He said that people will be receiving their bills from December through February and that’s when the accumulation of all of the really cold weather starts to hit. In March and April, people’s inability to pay that bill in full really becomes a problem for them and that is where NJ SHARES can help, Jacob said. He said the organization can help people by paying the bill in full or can help them to make a payment arrangement with the utility companies.

Jacob said that the way that the process works is that people send their bills as part of the application process and NJ SHARES partners with 320 organizations around the state to make it easy for people to apply. People can apply online as well. He said that residents send information about their income, their utility bill and then are notified if it is approved and the organization sends a payment directly to the utility company.

As for the economy, Jacob said, for folks who lost employment because of Sandy, people who their jobs because companies closed or they had temporary housing and now they are just getting back, for them this is still a reality. He said that the economy is growing back but it is not quite where it needs to be so the organization is still seeing thousands of people who need assistance.

For funding, Jacob said that the organization works with all of the utilities in the state as well as the Verizon Communication Lifeline Program and United Water, as well as other companies, to help their customers. He said the companies that NJ SHARES works with are all supportive of the program. Another source of funding for the program comes from the people of New Jersey, who supply the bulk of the funds to keep the services going.

“The utilities put information in their bills and the utilities will match the contribution that their customers make. Foundations are generous and help us, and corporate sponsors, and that is really how we are able to help people,” said Jacob.