As of Tuesday, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and Department of Community Affairs' annual Winter Termination Program is now in effect, and will run through March 15, 2023.

This initiative prevents utility shutoffs for eligible residents, and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who also serves as DCA commissioner, said there are plenty across the state who qualify.

But all too often, she said she hears people say things like "I'm not even going to bother to apply, because I know I'm not eligible."

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Not necessarily true, the lieutenant governor said.

"The federal government has raised the income ceiling, so I would like to encourage people to apply," Oliver said.

This program's funding streams have evolved in the past decade including during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Oliver, who oversees DCA's administration of Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds in the state.

The department is receiving $153 million in LIHEAP money this season, an increase of $25 to $30 million over recent years, said BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso.

"We're not going to let anybody freeze here in the state of New Jersey," Fiordaliso said. "We're very fortunate to live in a state like New Jersey that affords people the opportunity to get help when they need it."

The first call anyone experiencing a financial hardship should make is to their utility, Fiordaliso said.

But following that, he added that residents may be surprised not only that they qualify for the WTP, but also for other initiatives that can help them.

"If they're enrolled in one program, they might be able to also avail themselves to other programs," Fiordaliso said. "So it's extremely important."

WTP enrollment is available to families at or below 60% of the state median income, currently $6,662 per month for a family of four.

Oliver said available assistance also extends not only to furnace replacement, but air conditioning as well.

And those who need utility service to allow continued use of needed medical devices are among the list of eligible residents.

The lieutenant governor said the state also works with and in some cases, offers some types of these assistance programs to nonprofit organizations in every county of the state.

That can provide another avenue for residents in need to connect.

"If you reside anywhere near one of those nonprofits, you absolutely can turn to the nonprofit for assistance in filing your application," Oliver said.

Fiordaliso did want to remind everyone that once WTP wraps up next March 15, people are still responsible for paying their bills — but payment plans are available.

For more information or to request assistance from the state, click here or call 211.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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