Since March, most New Jerseyans have been isolating in their homes, causing utility expenses to rise above the norm. With the winter months approaching, Gov. Phil Murphy took action Thursday that he said would protect working families worried about how they’ll be able to afford heat.
“Today, I am signing an executive order extending the moratorium on utility shutoffs,” he said. “Under this order, no household may have its electricity, gas service or water shut off for nonpayment though March 15, 2021.”
The order also included a provision that required all utilities to be turned back on in any household that has had a nonpayment-related shutoff since March. Additionally, the order stipulated that the moratorium against the disconnection of internet and voice services has been extended through Nov. 15.
Any household with school-age children who need internet for remote learning will not have their connection shut off through March 15, 2021. Joining the governor at his media briefing was Board of Public Utilities President Joe Fiordaliso, who explained that this order will force big companies to follow these guidelines.
“I talked to the CEOs of these utilities almost on a daily basis, and most of them stepped right up to the plate,” Fiordaliso said. “There are good corporate citizens. Some do push back … but with this executive order, they’re all going to have to comply.”
Cable companies must allow residents at least a 12-month repayment plan before intervening with a shutoff under this order. An additional $15 million in funds has also been allocated to utility assistance programs currently run by Department of Community Affairs.
While this will go a long way to helping residents, Fiordaliso warns that it will not last forever, and residents should try and work with the companies to start repaying debts now.
“These moratoriums are not free. Eventually, one has to pay your bill,” he said. “Reach out to your utility, set up a payment plan so that, at the end of the moratorium, you’re not faced with such a gigantic bill that it becomes overwhelming.”
Murphy remains hopeful, saying no New Jersey resident should have to face losing heat for the winter.
“This infusion will allow us to be in a strong position to help qualified families,” Murphy said. “No one is to be shut off and receive a demand for a lump sum payment … as this pandemic and its economic fall out, we will continue to have (residents’) back.”
Other notes from Thursday’s COVID-19 briefing:
Another 973 positive cases have now been confirmed throughout the state. This brings the cumulative total since March to 216,994 cases. Ocean, Bergen, and Essex counties continue to be hotspots, as all three reported more than 100 cases. Middlesex is not far behind, with 89, while Hudson and Monmouth counties both reported over 70 positives.
Six new deaths have now been confirmed to be from COVID-19-related complications, which puts the total at 14,408. The number of probable deaths is at 1,789 and there were seven deaths reported yesterday, but they have not yet been lab-confirmed.
Other hospital numbers:
- In hospital: 733 (542 confirmed cases, 191 under investigation);
- In ICU: 178;
- On ventilators: 60;
- Rate of transmission: 16;
- Positivity rate: 35% (from Oct. 11).
New Jersey health care exchange
Murphy talked more about the new, state-run health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act that was announced Wednesday. The open enrollment period will begin Nov. 1.
“I am especially proud that we are able to provide better access than ever before for residents to find an affordable health care plan that works for them and works for their families,” he said.
The enrollment period will end Jan. 31, 2021, which Murphy noted is double the enrollment period that has been open in previous years.
“Under our new exchange, individuals eligible for subsidy assistance and premium tax credits will find the lowest net premiums since the passage of the ACA more than a decade ago,” he said. “The past seven months have proven the importance of having health care. Our new exchange could not be coming online at a more important time.”
Residents can visit the portal at getcovered.nj.gov and apply once the window opens. The governor’s office estimates that, under this program, the monthly individual cost of health care will be around $117 per month. This marks a savings of $50 per month in comparison to the current year, and $30 a month in comparison to plan purchased in 2013.
There were 29,000 initial claims filed this week, which is a 5,500 increase from last week. In total, approximate 1.65 million New Jerseyans have sought benefits since March, with 1.44 million qualifying. This means 96% of residents who have applied have received at least one benefit. The average applicant has received $12,000 in benefits since the pandemic began.
Murphy continued by praising the Department of Labor & Workforce Development for its efforts to qualify residents for the FEMA Lost Wages program.
“(The department) continues their work to clear all eligible beneficiaries for the funds they deserve,” Murphy said. “That includes their work to implement the new, $300 per week FEMA Lost Wages Assistance to people whose unemployment is COVID related.”
An estimated 800,000 New Jersey workers will qualify for the program, and $1.5 billion will be dispersed to all applicants who are approved in one lump sum early next week.
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Murphy on the need for federal unemployment relief:
“I’m proud of what we’ve done, but we can’t do it alone. We need the federal government. They play an existential, unique role. They can print money; we can’t. No American state can. We need them to continue to be there for a whole host of needs, and especially on this point for our folks who are unemployed.”