By CBSNewYork Team

EAST ORANGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The moratorium and grace period for unpaid utility bills that was put in place because of the pandemic is nearing an end, so those behind on utility bills in our area are encouraged to apply for state assistance programs.

East Orange resident Sharronda Allen says it’s been tough keeping up with all of her bills.

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“It would help my household immensely,” she told CBS2’s Meg Baker.

She is not alone. East Orange has more than $11 million worth of arrearages owed to PSE&G.

“I’m an educator, so I need my internet. I need my electricity. I need my food … Before the pandemic, I used to have three jobs. I only have one now,” Allen said.

Now, a chance to catch up. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is offering expanded assistance programs to households experiencing financial hardships. A family of four earning up to $106,000 will now qualify for assistance.

“It gives those individuals that has to make a decision on should I pay my rent or don’t pay my rent because I have to make sure that the utility bill is paid,” Mayor Ted Green said. “This expansion gives those folks just another chance to have hope.”

The Fresh Start program has also been expanded. It wipes out the debt of those who owe money on their bills as long as they make their regular monthly payments going forward for a year.

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“If you don’t qualify because your income is too high, get in contact with your utility company … They are more than willing to sit down with you, figure out a payment plan,” NJBPU Presidsent Joseph Fiordaliso said.

Over in New York, sister company PSE&G Long Island encourages customers to take advantage of a limited-time New York state program that provides eligible households up to $10,000 to cover outstanding balances.

Officials say the most important thing now is to get the word out.

“Start making applications for these programs now,” Sen. Nia Gill said.

This is a way to help protect yourself and your family.

For information about energy assistance in New Jersey, click here. For information about assistance in New York, click here.

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CBS2’s Meg Baker contributed to this report.

CBSNewYork Team