NJ 2-1-1 Newsletter - Autumn 2016
With record high temperatures these days, it’s hard to recall what “cold” feels like, but NJ 2-1-1 is NJ’s Utility Assistance Hotline, and right now we are focused on the fact that “cold” is just around the corner. NJ 2-1-1 receives thousands of calls each year from residents who are struggling to pay utility bills so that they can stay warm. There are many programs designed to assist people. Some of them are federally funded, while others are supported through state and local sources. “When you put it all together,” says Board President, Gina Plotino, “it’s a lot to digest.”
She is right about that. Programs have a variety of eligibility requirements, including income limits and other stipulations that strictly determine who can apply. Some programs offer assistance with heating expenses of any kind, while others will only assist with the cost associated with a particular form of heat. Other programs require that applicants meet additional, more specific, standards pertaining to past due accounts, payment histories and life circumstances.
“Finding the right assistance when you are struggling to keep your family warm can feel overwhelming. We hear that when we talk with people,” explains Janice Kaniewski, NJ 2-1-1 call center director, “Our staff has been carefully trained on these programs so that they are better able to connect callers with the most appropriate resource.” A call to NJ 2-1-1 will cut through the confusion. Staff can explain the details of the different programs, provide access to applications, check the status on LIHEAP/USF applications that have been filed and talk with callers about other resources that may help with needs like food, clothing and affordable housing.
Our website has an entire section related to utility assistance and a specific page that provides a short paragraph on each utility program, lists of specific eligibility guidelines, links to online applications and application agency locations. We also offer a PDF entitled Utility Assistance at a Glance. This two-page sheet provides just enough detail for readers to identify the program that might be right for them or the clients they are trying to serve.
Emergency Preparedness Never Ends
To this day, NJ 2-1-1 is receiving calls from residents who are recovering from the effects of Superstorm Sandy. The importance of being prepared for an emergency really hit home that day…with thunderous winds and raging seas. September is Emergency Preparedness Month. No one should take that lightly.
NJ 2-1-1 has been asked to participate in a Disaster Case Management Working Group with others in the VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Assisting in Disaster) community. We’ll be working together to build a library of disaster-related materials that break disaster response and recovery into manageable segments that can be used in future disasters as needed. We learned a lot from Superstorm Sandy and all of our work with local disaster recovery groups and the survivors of the storm.
When disaster hits, people become traumatized and are in need of immediate help. They need specific guidance at each stage of recovery. In the beginning it may be where to go in their neighborhood for food and shelter. Days later it could be instructions on how to muck out their home and the importance of taking pictures before touching anything. Later still--how FEMA works and how to apply for federal aid and other available resources. Disaster response and recovery is ever-changing.
"As natural and man-made disasters are becoming more prevalent throughout the U.S., it is critical that individuals and families have a plan and are prepared for whatever might lie ahead," explains Kelly Higgs, NJVOAD disaster recovery and resiliency coordinator. She continues, "Helpnjnow.org is a site created by NJ non-profits and government to provide preparedness resources as well as information on how to volunteer or help when disaster strikes."
The perfect time to prepare yourself for disaster is when there is no disaster looming. There are easy steps to take now that will go a long way to keeping you and your family safe. If you have a disability, you should also be listed in the NJ Register Ready system. You will need to renew your listing annually, but this listing is important because it is designed to alert local emergency responders to those in the community who are in need of special assistance when disaster strikes. If you need help to register, dial 211.
Call Specialist Anjali Receives High-Five Service Rating from Essex County Caller *
“I thought I could do it all myself, but then I realized I couldn’t. And, I said to myself, Roberta, you haven’t done anything you need to be ashamed of. You’re just trying to raise your granddaughter and you need help.” That’s how Roberta, a resident of Essex County, started on the path to finding the help she and her granddaughter needed. As Roberta explains it, “I was just on the computer looking for housing that I could afford and I saw something about calling 2-1-1 for help, so I did it.”
When she called she spoke with NJ 2-1-1 Call Specialist, Anjali, who listened to her story. Anjali heard that Roberta was calling in search of housing, but also heard that she was a grandmother who was raising her grandchild all on her own. That’s when Anjali started talking with Roberta about the Kinship Navigator Program, a program created to assist people in exactly her situation. “I can’t say enough about 2-1-1,” Roberta remarked when we talked with her about sharing her story with our readers. “I tell everyone about you,” she says. “They need to know. I tell people, call 2-1-1. They will help you find emergency assistance.”
Call specialists at NJ 2-1-1 are trained to listen with compassion. They hear what people are saying and they listen for unexpressed needs. Roberta called, hoping to find out about some affordable housing. That day in late August, she learned about the New Jersey Housing Resource Center, the Kinship Navigator Program, utility assistance programs and pantries in her area that could help her if she was running low on food. “I was at my wit’s end that day. 2-1-1 changed all that for me.”
* NJ 2-1-1 is a free and confidential service. We could never have told Roberta's story without her express permission. Thank you Roberta for helping us share our work with others by sharing your story with us!
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On the Lookout for Holiday Cheer
Every year NJ 2-1-1 looks for holiday resources that will help families who are struggling to make ends meet. Thanks to Ana Salazar, our student intern from County College of Morris, that search is already underway.
To begin with, Ana is compiling information on local programs throughout the state that will help families with holiday giving. Many times a family needing assistance must register as early as the end of September to be considered. Once that list is completed she’ll begin to research locations that host Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and others that distribute holiday food baskets. Catch a sneak peak as we build our list. (As sites are confirmed, we put an asterisk (*) next to them.)
For those who wish to help by donating gifts or food, our list will offer a multitude of opportunities for you to express goodwill. Call 211 in the coming weeks for information on where to go to give and get help. Search our website using the search term “holiday” to find local resources.
Page last modified/reviewed on December 20, 2016
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