NJ 2-1-1 Newsletter - Autumn 2018

Energy Assistance Programs now Open

penniesWhen finances are tight, every penny counts. Last year, state officials noted that New Jersey residents who applied for utility assistance through LIHEAP saved 1.4 million dollars collectively. Households heating with electric and gas can often receive as much as $1,200 in savings annually. That’s a whole lot of pennies. The Home Energy Assistance season opened on October 1 and offers help to residents who fall within the financial limits and program guidelines. As the State’s Utility Assistance Hotline, NJ 2-1-1 receives inquiries (calls, texts, and chats) from residents all over New Jersey who are asking for information about how programs work, how to apply for assistance and the status of their application once it has been submitted. 

Utility assistance program comparisons, links to the applications needed and contact information for the local agency that processes applications in your area are available on the utility assistance pages of our website

Financial guidelines for utility assistance programs are based upon household income as it compares to the Federal Poverty Guidelines (reestablished every year) and the number of people in the household. For example, this year a household of four must have a monthly gross income of less than $4,184 to be eligible for LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program). To qualify for USF (Universal Service Fund), that monthly limit is set at $3,661 for a household that size. 

If you received LIHEAP/USF last year, you are eligible to apply for the program through a process called recertification. New applicants or those who have moved within the last year will need to follow another process. Find out what you’ll need to bring either way

Other utility assistance programs are available for higher wage earners who have experienced a financial crisis and are eligible for assistance through the NJ Shares program. Those in need may also find help through emergency assistance programs; weatherization services that can be used to improve energy efficiency in your home; and special assistance programs from your utility provider. NJ 2-1-1 has created a handout entitled Utility Assistance at a Glance for a quick review of what is available. More in-depth information is found on the utility pages of our website.

Put us on your Team

hands holding other handsSupported by a grant from the NJ Department of Health, NJ 2-1-1 has spent the past three months reaching out to family physicians, nurse practitioners and others in the medical community with a clear message, “Put us on your team.” We’ve been met with open arms! What we have learned in the process is that the healthcare community has been struggling to find community resources for patients who have basic needs that are going unmet. They know how important it is to overall health and yet, in many cases, just didn’t know where these services could be found. NJ 2-1-1 provides that vital connection and is just a phone call, text or chat away.

It is a logical union and one that research has proven to be beneficial to individuals and society as a whole. Social determinants like where you live, your level of education, your access to food, affordable housing, healthcare, etc. have a significant impact on your health. Some studies attribute 40% of your overall health outcome to these very factors.

With this thought in mind, NJ 2-1-1 started targeting its outreach efforts to healthcare workers throughout New Jersey to educate them about our services and the breadth and integrity of our resource database. NJ 2-1-1 Executive Director, Melissa Acree, participated in a panel discussion at the NJAFP (NJ Academy of Family Physicians) Diabetes Summit to discuss how connections made by 2-1-1 could offer practitioners and their patients a practical solution to addressing these basic needs which, when left unmet, often obstruct the road to good health. Her message was simple and direct, “When you are meeting with a patient who needs help with any of their basic needs, ask them to dial 2-1-1. We are always open and we can help to connect them with programs and services that can make all the difference. Put us on your team.” Watch our video.

One Door Leads Home

Man with hands in front of his face"I don't have any place to sleep tonight. I need help." As the Homeless Hotline for Morris County, our office gets many calls that start this way. When a person dials the Hotline, they are connecting themselves with a continuum of service providers in Morris County committed to assessing each individual situation and responding accordingly. The system is structured to minimize traditional barriers to shelter and housing services by creating a single point of entry and providing additional support to access as needed. 

Formally known as Morris County’s Continuum of Care, the group consists of 13 agencies that have come together to communicate a simple message: One Door Leads Home. If you are experiencing a housing crisis, the number to call is 2-1-1.

Climbing out of homelessness is virtually impossible without a community-wide response, and local groups have coordinated their efforts and services to meet the unique needs of Morris County community members experiencing a housing crisis. Those in need of shelter and others who are experiencing a housing crisis can make the call to 2-1-1 themselves or go to one of two drop-in centers to get connected to the appropriate housing and shelter resources in the county. The important thing is that they take that first step.

The use of a coordinated entry system like this is encouraged by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and offers distinct advantages to past approaches including, equal access, standardized assessment and coordinated referral. All in need may get help through 2-1-1.  NJ 2-1-1 serves as the Homeless Hotline in three other counties including Hudson (4:30pm-8am), Middlesex (24 hours), and Passaic (24 hours). Callers from other areas of the state are referred to the appropriate county hotline.

Jersey Cares Volunteers join our Ranks

hurricane near floridaNJ 2-1-1 was called to action on September 11 as North Carolina prepared for another hurricane to make landfall just as Hurricane Matthew had done in 2016, only to be followed by Hurricane Irma in 2017. “Part of the beauty of the 2-1-1 system is that we can depend upon one another in times such as these,” NJ 2-1-1 Executive Director Melissa Acree explains. “Every state in the country has a 2-1-1 now. And when disaster hits we can reach out to other locations for back-up.”

NJ 2-1-1 was built for disaster and that enables us to quickly ramp up when the volume of calls increases. So when Hurricane Florence hit on September 14, our staff took some of the calls from North Carolina and continues to do so as people recover. Volunteers from Jersey Cares asked if they could help and, after receiving special training, are providing assistance with calls during the weekends. We thank them for that!

North Carolina Governor Cooper has expressed his gratitude to NC 2-1-1 for the valuable role they have played, saying they served as the “voice to the public.” In addition to handling calls, the organization very successfully employed reverse text messaging which enabled them to communicate directives to North Carolina residents who had opted into the system. Before, during and long after the storm 2-1-1 is there. As of October 1, NJ 2-1-1 had answered over 1,700 calls for help from North Carolina.