Governor Murphy has signed S-3333, which protects low-income households from having their water services disconnected due to unpaid bills. Water utility providers, including local authorities that have not signed up to participate in New Jerseys Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) would be prohibited from taking certain collection actions against customers with arrearages.
P.L. 2023, c. 33 requires any municipal water and wastewater utility or authority to enter into a vendor contract with the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to participate in the LIHWAP. The vendor contract will not prohibit a municipal utility from taking collection action against a qualifying customer after September 30, 2023. Collection action includes assessing interest, discontinuing service, or placing, selling, or enforcing a lien on real property.
Public utilities, local authorities, and municipalities that provide water and wastewater services would be prohibited from assessing interest on arrearages, discontinuing services, or placing, selling, or enforcing a lien for unpaid balances if the utility provider has not signed the vendor contract required to receive LIHWAP payments.
Under this new law, water and sewer service providers are required to provide notice about the LIHWAP program on every bill and written communication to a customer, and on their website, and provides disconnection protection for customers who have been approved by DCA to participate in the program. Utility providers are also required to provide customer arrearage data to DCA, which must treat this information as confidential, to facilitate DCA's administration of the program. Providers are subject to penalties of $500/day for discontinuing service to a customer in violation of the bill's requirements, and $100 for failure to advertise eligibility for the program.
The LIHWAP program, administered by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) provides benefits directly to water and wastewater providers on behalf of residential customers who are struggling to pay their bills. The assistance can be used to restore services where services have been terminated, avoid service disruption for those residential customers who are in danger of disconnection, and support those household customers who are current in their bills but might be in danger of falling behind.
The new law took effect on April 5, 2023.
Contact: Andrew LaFevre, Legislative Analyst, firstname.lastname@example.org, 609-695-3481, x116.