TRUE Help for Those Struggling to Pay the Bills

New assistance program from the Affordable Housing Alliance and the Board of Public Utilities provides the unemployed with relief from utility bills.

You have always been a person who pays her bills. You don't get behind in the electric bill, even during those pricey months of August and January. And yet, here you are, jobless, perhaps for the first time, facing a past due notice from JCP&L that you just can't afford. What do you do?

Thanks to a new grant program designed by Eatontown based Affordable Housing Alliance (AHA), there is help for people in situations like this.  Friday the AHA announced their program that benefits people who have fallen behind in their utility bills with one time payments to get them current.

What makes this program different from other assistance programs is that it is targeted to people who have a history of paying their bills but have hit hard financial times. According to AHA, with record levels of unemployment hitting the state, the program is needed now more than ever.

Donna M. Blaze, the group's CEO and founding director, said she has never seen a time in her almost 30 years of social service work, where so many people in such a broad range of economic status are seeking help.

"It doesn't matter if you were making $150,000 or $10,000," she said about now- unemployed workers, "If you're not making anything, it doesn't matter how much you used to make."

The AHA is a non-profit founded in 1991 with a start-up grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. According to the AHA website: "The idea sprang from a group of interested colleagues who were struggling to find housing for individuals with disabilities, low-wage workers, single parents and other disenfranchised groups."

If you are one of those diligent utlity-bill-payers, you are partially responsible for helping pay the 834 overdue utlity bills that the AHA has already paid through this new program. The money for this $25 million two-year program comes out of the Societal Benefits Charge on your utility bill. The Board of Public Utilities granted the funds to the AHA for its Temporary Relief for Utlilty Expenses program -- TRUE. Blaze said since the program launched in February it has already made $700,000 in direct payments to utilities.

AHA kicked off the program at its new utility office on Broad Street in Eatontown on Friday before a large audience of staff and board members. See Patch's video in the photo gallery of staff member Virginia Brown, reading a letter from a grateful receipient of a TRUE grant. The writer is a nurse who was hit with soaring utility bills after last summer's heat wave, at the same time she lost work. The woman writes how she appreciated, not only the assistance, but the kindness and understanding she received from AHA staff.

The statewide program also has another benefit that some other assistances programs don't have -- anonymity.  People faced with overdue notices from the gas or electric company don't have to stand in line to apply at a government office.

"You can do it from your Blackberry," said Michele Torres, director of TRUE.

Thanks to cloud technology, applicants can visit AHA's website and apply in the privacy of their living room. Or if Internet access was something they dropped from the budget along with eating out, they can apply from computers at any library.

The TRUE grant assistance program benefits eligible New Jersey low and moderate income homeowners and renters.There is a maximum annual household benefit of $1,500 ($750 for each utility), with an estimated average award of $500 to $600.

For someone who does want a face to face meeting, applicants can visit the new office at 94 Broad St. in Eatontown, (732) 389 - 2958 or any legislative office.

kathy bloise June 13, 2011 at 11:32 AM
Is there anything like this program for Freehold??
Amy Byrnes (Editor) June 13, 2011 at 12:43 PM
Kathy ... The office is located in Eatontown but it's a state-wide program. Here's their phone number for more information: (732) 389 - 2958.
Kathy English June 13, 2011 at 02:55 PM
In the past year I get alot of calls for Afforable housing/Monmouth Housing and now the True program and I have had my phone since 1992. I just hope that my number is not out on the web some place where I can't find it. Please it is 732-389-2958. Thank you.
Michele Torres June 13, 2011 at 03:31 PM
Hi Everyone For questions or to apply for the TRUE Program, you can call the direct number 732-982-8710. That will bring you directly to the TRUE dept instead of the main number. Thanks!
Donna June 13, 2011 at 04:06 PM
Kathy, Please call my office because the Affordable Housing Alliance number is 732-389-2958 and has been so for 16 years. I don't know what you mean by your number being on the web where you can't find it. Donna Blaze, CEO


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