Borough of Roselle introduces Utility Assistance Program to residents

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ROSELLE, NJ — An informational session introducing residents to Proceed Inc.’s Utility Assistance Program was presented by Roselle Mayor Donald Shaw and the Borough Council on Wednesday, Feb. 2. Proceed Inc. program supervisor Dee Perez assisted in the presentation. The program provides a one-time heating credit for residential households and monthly assistance, based on usage and household size.

“It has been a tough two years for all of us. We’ve been through this pandemic, and many of you have been holding on as best as you can, but we thank God for great organizations, such as Proceed, that do the work in the community to really help us financially,” Council President Denise Wilkerson said during the program. “The utility bills are high and it’s cold out, so we want to make sure that people get the ability to kind of offset some of those bills that we have.”

Shaw pulled the informational session together, citing the benefit the program has been for Newark and saying he wanted Roselle residents to have the same opportunity.

“Utility bills are skyrocketing,” Shaw said during the program. “A lot of times, people feel that they can’t pay their bills and look for other means of heating resources. We just want to tackle that and offer our residents some sort of help from (Proceed) to offset their bills and know that you can run your heat because there is help for you to pay your utility bills. You don’t have to plug in heaters that are faulty. We don’t want to see family’s (homes) burn down; we want to be here and find some assistance to help residents so they can be safe.

“I want to thank Dee so much, and we definitely will be continuing our partnership,” the mayor continued. “Council president, we have a lot going on and we have an array of programs coming. We’re really excited about it.”

Perez said she was there to let everyone know about the Utility Assistance Program available for Union County.

“As the mayor was saying, unfortunately, we have a lot of households that are afraid to use the heat because the costs are high,” said Perez. “They may not be able to cover it and may have to go to other resources that may not be safe. I’m here to let you know there are programs. We have the utility assistance open. It’s actually been open since October and won’t end until June.”

Perez explained that the Utility Assistance Program provides a one-time heating credit for households, as well as monthly assistance for households based on usage and household size. Essentially, if your usage is very high, she said, this gives you a monthly credit that will cover anything more than 2 percent of your income that you’re paying for each bill. There’s a component for individuals who have a medical necessity and, if you provide a doctor’s note, that component gives $200 in May and throughout the summer, for people who will have electrical expenses based on a medical need, such as oxygen machines or air conditioners running all the time.

“The fourth part of the program is weatherization for homeowners,” said Perez. “The agency field techs will come out and do a home inspection from top to bottom, and just figure out what the house needs to be more energy efficient.”

Perez said the American Rescue Plan offered an extra benefit that the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs is also handling: the ARP Arrearage Forgiveness Program. This program helps individuals pay their arrearage bills. As long as you’re approved from home energy, it can be as much as $8,000 of your heating bill and as much as $5,000 of your electric bill.

“We are also processing for ARP. If we’re not doing direct applications, we will be submitting the report to the state once we process for anyone who’s approved and still has a balance to help being covered,” she continued. “The second additional assistance that’s available again is (Universal Service Fund) Fresh Start. In previous years, if you were approved for that monthly credit on the bill, you were able to get a one-year forgiveness program. All you had to do was pay your bill monthly, and any past due balance you had would be covered by this program, if you followed the rules of it. The rules are to pay your continuous bill for 12 months. If you can’t pay them in 12 months, we’ll give you 15 months. At the end of that 15 months, if you’ve caught up with those bills, we’ll forgive your balance. That only used to happen the first time you were approved for USF. This year, thankfully, it is now extended for everyone, even if you have already received USF. If you have a high balance, everyone now qualifies for USF Fresh Start again.”

Perez pointed out that another part of that program is, if you don’t qualify for the monthly credit based on your income, this year, you will get the minimum, which is $5, and that $5 will allow you to go into Fresh Start, so you still have the opportunity to have your back bills paid. In addition, emergency assistance will begin around March 15. Every year, emergency assistance begins for households who are having a difficult time. If your bill is still high and you’re having a difficult time paying, you could still apply for the emergency assistance toward your heating costs up to $700 and toward your PSE&G up to $300. So, there many ways that the program can help you pay the bills and get rid of the high balances that a lot of houses incurred in the past couple of years.

“So we’re here, and I’m here tonight,” she continued. “I will be taking applications from anyone who wants to submit one, and we can start the process tonight. I also ask you please share this information with your friends, your family, your fellow neighbors, whoever is willing to listen to you about it, because there are a lot of individuals who don’t particularly know about these programs and/or are maybe afraid to apply. There’s no reason to be afraid to apply.”

Perez left residents with an additional fact and once again assured residents that the assistance is there.

“For this heating season and most likely next heating season, the benefit guideline for income used to be 200 percent of the federal poverty level, so it was about $2,200 a month for an individual monthly gross income to have qualified for the program,” Perez said. “Right now, for this year and, more likely than not, next year, the state has upped those income guidelines to 60 percent of the state median for home energy assistance and 400 percent of the federal poverty level. So, you’re looking at one person making $40,000 to $50,000 a year who, in previous times, would not have been able to qualify, (but who now) will now be able to qualify for these programs.

“So the assistance is there, we’re here to help and the income eligibility is so feasible right now that I’m hoping we could have everyone come in and get these bills down and keep our homes warm, safe and happy.”