NJ Utilities Can Now Shut Off Your Power

Scores of utility customers requesting emergency assistance descended on a Trenton office of New Jersey's largest utility company before dawn Wednesday.
It was the first day low-income customers were allowed to request emergency aid through the Low Income Energy Assistance Program -- and the first day after the winter that the state's utilities were allowed to turn off service to delinquent customers.
PSE&G spokesman Paul Rosengren said the crowds were so big by midmorning that Trenton police were called in to help control them. A half-dozen squad cars showed up. Rosengren said people who were in line outside the building were told they should leave but would be able to get help later.
The state's other major utilities did not report such big, or early, crowds; nor did PSE&G's other customer service offices.
Rosengren said community groups that help the poor in Trenton seem particularly good about getting the word out.
There could be more competition this year for LIHEAP emergency assistance.
The income eligibility has gone down from 225 percent of poverty level to 200 percent. Last year, a family of four earning up to $49,613 was eligible. This year, the same family would have to earn under $44,700 to be able to get the assistance.
And the emergency assistance amounts are also lower: $450 this year compared with $800 in 2010.
Customers who are already part of the LIHEAP program and are behind in payments to their utility companies have until May 2 to apply for the help -- but the fund could be depleted by then.
Rosengren said the company has about the same number of customers who receive assistance with their bills as in the past, but slightly more who are behind in their payments.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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