The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is extending a helping hand to those still struggling to keep up with gas and electric bills as a result of COVID-19 income loss.

Changes to the BPU's Universal Service Fund go into effect Oct. 1, according to a release issued Thursday. They include a raising of income limits from 185% of the Federal Poverty Level to 400%, a threshold of approximately $104,000, making more New Jerseyans eligible for benefits.

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The USF's "energy affordability threshold" for gas and non-heating electric costs will drop from 3% to 2% of annual income, and for electric heat, from 6% to 4% of income.

Also being adjusted is the state's Fresh Start Program, which provides unlimited debt forgiveness for past due balances. Starting Oct. 1, USF enrollees with a balance of $60 or more will be automatically enrolled in Fresh Start, and for each month customers pay their bills in full, one-twelfth of their outstanding balance will be forgiven.

These modifications will be left in place for two years, according to the BPU. Gas and electric companies may be asked to reconnect, upon request, any customer who has been disconnected but is able to prove having applied to an assistance program in that timeframe.

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