Legislation Enacting Vendor Requirements for the LIHWAP and Winter Termination program
Governor Murphy has recently signed legislation requiring local vendors, that directly bill residential customers for water and/or sewer, to participate in the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) and the Winter Termination Program, both of which are administered by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). A local vendor means a water public utility, a municipal public utility, as defined in N.J.S.40A:1-1, 1, a joint meeting or regional service agency, as defined in section 3 of P.L.2007, c.63 (C.40A:65-3), or a water commission appointed pursuant to R.S.40:62-109, that directly bills residential customers for water and/or sewer.
The Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program
LIHWAP provides funds to assist low-income households (at or below 60% of State median income) with water and wastewater bills. The priority is to ensure that households whose services have been disconnected due to non-payment, or are about to be disconnected, are able to have their services restored as quickly as possible.
The Winter Termination Program
This program prevents service discontinuation for eligible residential customers receiving residential electric, sewer and water service from a local authority, municipal utility, or rural electric cooperative from November 15th through March 15th. Service cannot be disconnected during this period to those residential customers who demonstrate at the time of the intended termination that they are:
- Recipients of benefits under the Federal Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) or certified as eligible therefore protected under standards set by the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
- Recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).
- Recipients of Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
- Recipients of Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PAAD).
- Recipients of General Assistance (GA) benefits.
- Recipients of the Universal Service Fund (USF).
- Recipients of the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program.
- Recipients of benefits under the Lifeline Credit Program (LIHWAP).
Persons unable to pay their utility bills because of circumstances beyond their control. Such circumstances shall include, but shall not be limited to, unemployment, illness, medically related expenses, recent death of an immediate family member, and any other circumstances which might cause financial hardship.
This legislation imposes the following temporary requirements on water service providers
- Each water service provider is required to enter into a vendor contract with DCA and participate in the LIHWAP which provides arrear benefits to eligible households.
The vendor agreement does not prohibit a water service provider from undertaking any of the following actions, after September 30, 2023, toward any customer who has been approved for the LIHWAP:
- Assessing interest on the unpaid balance of water or wastewater service charges, except in certain situations.
- Discontinuing the water or wastewater service of any qualifying customer for non-payment, except when the customer is enrolled in a deferred payment agreement and complies with all requirements of the agreement; or
- In the case of a local authority or municipal utility, placing, selling, or enforcing a lien on real property for the unpaid balance of water or wastewater service charges.
- Any water service provider that fails to enter into a vendor contract with the DCA, or otherwise fails to allow customers to participate in the LIHWAP, is prohibited from doing the following from April 5, 2023 to September 30, 2023:
- Discontinuing the water or wastewater service of any residential customer for nonpayment; and
- Placing, selling, or enforcing a lien on real property for the unpaid balance of the water or wastewater charges of any residential customer. This requirement does not apply to any municipal lien that was sold to a third party before the enactment of the legislation (April 5, 2023), nor does it apply to the payment of unpaid water or wastewater charges by a third-party lienholder.
Any water service provider that violates this prohibition would be subject to a fine of $500 for each calendar day in which the water or wastewater service is discontinued for nonpayment. Any penalty imposed shall be collected, with costs, in a civil action by a summary proceeding under the “Penalty Enforcement Law of 1999,” P.L.1999, c.274 (C.2A:58-10 et seq.). The Superior Court and the municipal court shall have jurisdiction over such proceedings
- Each water service provider is required to advertise the LIHWAP by including a DCA program insert in all residential customers bills and information about the program in all written communications provided to a residential customer in connection with an overdue water or wastewater balance and publishing information about the program on its website: waterassistance.nj.gov
Any water service provider that violates this prohibition would be subject to a fine of $100 for each instance in which the water service provider fails to advertise eligibility for the program, including any residential customer bill that fails to include this information.
Any penalty imposed shall be collected, with costs, in a civil action by a summary proceeding under the “Penalty Enforcement Law of 1999,” P.L.1999, c.274 (C.2A:58-10 et seq.). The Superior Court and the municipal court shall have jurisdiction over such proceedings.
- All water service providers are required to provide a written notice, every 14 calendar days after the date of this letter until October 1, 2023, to the DCA concerning the arrearages of residential customers. These notices would be considered confidential, and the DCA will use these notices to encourage otherwise eligible persons to participate in the LIHWAP.
DCA will provide customer status reports to each agency
Please note that DCA will provide your agency with a report summarizing the status of every residential customer who applied for the LIHWAP. Once received, you are required to suspend any enforcement actions against any residential customer who has been approved for the LIHWAP. Additionally, if your agency receives notice after September 30, 2023, that a customer has been approved for the LIHWAP, your agency must waive any interest assessed on the customer for the unpaid balance of water or wastewater charges between September 30, 2023, and the date on the receipt of notice. This requirement to waive interest would not apply if the unpaid balances of the customer have already been paid by a third-party lienholder or sold at a tax sale.
If you have any questions about these requirements, please contact:
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org