For the second month, New Jersey residents are complaining of shockingly high utility bills after months of estimated meter readings, according to dozens of NJ.com readers and complaints to the Board of Public Utilities.

Between Aug. 24 and Sept 24, the Board of Public Utilities received more than 229 complaints regarding high utility bills for PSE&G, 36 for JCP&L, 26 for ACE and nine for Rockland, spokesman Peter Peretzman said in a statement to NJ Advance Media.

“My bill, it’s over $500,” said Kevin Davitt of Glen Rock. “We have a window unit so it eats up the electricity in the summer, but this was just unusually high.”

And Hoboken resident Kailey Elfstrum said her bill jumped from $106 to $523. While she expected her bill to go up when she moved from her one-bedroom apartment across the street to her two-bedroom apartment, she was dismayed at the hundreds more she suddenly owed.

Along with dozens of other confused customers, they reached out to PSE&G customer services, which has seen an increase in customers calling about skyrocketing bills due to estimated meter readings.

The utility giant explained that one of Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive orders enacted during the height of the coronavirus pandemic barred utility workers from entering people’s homes. That meant the company had to estimate meter readings beginning in March and through the summer, said Fred Daum, Executive Director of Customer Operations.

CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES: Live map tracker | Newsletter | Homepage

Electricity usage history and average monthly temperature are two big factors that come into play with estimating usage, he said in an interview.

For example, if a customer’s August bill was estimated, the company looks at average temperature this year — 77 degrees — compared to last year’s 76 degrees. The customer’s usage should be very

Loading...

Load Error

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

This article was produced in partnership with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

Across the country, electric utilities have worked the levers of power to win favorable treatment from state policymakers.

This week, a Richmond Times-Dispatch and ProPublica investigation found that Dominion Energy, Virginia’s largest public utility, successfully lobbied to reshape a major climate bill to cover its massive offshore wind project. The move shifted risk from the company’s shareholders to its ratepayers. As a result of the legislation, a typical residential customer’s bill is projected to increase by nearly $30 per month over the next decade.

Dominion says its wind project is necessary to meet the state’s new renewable energy goals. The utility’s lobbying success underscores its ability to work through the legislative process in Richmond, where special interests have taken on outsized roles in policymaking.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

Elsewhere, utilities have gone much further, crossing the line into potentially criminal behavior.

In Illinois, the largest electric utility acknowledged in July it gave jobs and money to associates of the state House speaker in return for favorable legislation, according to a deferred prosecution agreement with the company in federal court.

In Ohio, a power company allegedly funneled $60 million into a slush fund for a legislative leader in exchange for his backing of a bailout of two nuclear plants. The utility has not been charged, but the elected official now faces a racketeering charge in what prosecutors said was “likely the largest bribery,

This Tuesday marked 67 days of darkness for Kenneth Parson. He fell behind on his utility bills in the spring — and his lights went off, and stayed off, starting at the end of July.

No power meant no refrigerator, so Parson, a 62-year-old with diabetes in Griffin, Ga., had no choice but to store his temperature-sensitive insulin on ice in a small cooler. He didn’t have an easy way to cook at home, either, so his wife, Cheryl, took to preparing some meals for him in a neighbor’s kitchen.

In those first few days after they lost electricity, Cheryl had pleaded on Parson’s behalf with city officials who manage their local utilities, hoping she might change their minds in the middle of a pandemic that has left families nationwide struggling to cover their once-manageable costs of living.

“They said they couldn’t do nothing for him,” lamented Cheryl, 65, who lives apart from her husband but remains married and helps him manage his health conditions. “It peeved me off.”

The worst economic crisis in more than a generation has thrust potentially millions of Americans across the country into a similar, sudden peril: Cash-strapped, and in some cases still unemployed, they have fallen far behind on their electricity, water and gas bills, staring down the prospect of potential utility shut-offs and fast-growing debts they may never be able to repay.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many states acted quickly to ensure their residents would not lose their power or other utilities if their jobs or wages were slashed. Now, however, only 21 states and the District of Columbia still have such disconnection bans in place.

That leaves roughly 179 million Americans at risk of losing service even as the economy continues sputtering, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors’

There are pros and cons to getting a personal loan.

Right now, for millions of Americans, times are tough. It’s understandable if you can’t pay the bills with the country in a recession and COVID-19 still a serious threat. But you’ll need to explore solutions to help you get through.

One option is to secure a personal loan. While this approach can work, it’s not necessarily the right option for everyone. Here’s what to consider to help decide if it’s the best approach for you.

Can you qualify for a personal loan?

If you’re thinking about borrowing to cover the bills, the first big question is whether you can qualify.

Lenders typically check your credit score and sources of income when deciding whether you can borrow, how much you can borrow, and what rate you’re charged to borrow. If you’re struggling to make ends meet because of a lack of income, you may not be approved for a loan.

The Ascent's picks of the best personal loans

The Ascent’s picks of the best personal loans

Looking for a personal loan but don’t know where to start? The Ascent’s picks of the best personal loans help you demystify the offers out there so you can pick the best one for your needs.

See the picks

While there are options, such as secured loans backed by collateral or getting a cosigner, these won’t be available to everyone. So before you count on an influx of cash from a personal loan lender, shop around to see if you qualify and to compare rates and terms.

What are your alternatives?

A personal loan can be an affordable way to borrow, and if you take out a fixed-rate loan, it provides predictability. You’ll know when your payments are due, how much they will be, the total cost of borrowing, and how long it

THE CONVERSATION

Loading...

Load Error

Getty Images

Surprise medical billing is one of the most urgent topics in health care.

Too often after a hospital procedure or visit to an emergency room patients get hit with unexpected bills from out-of-network doctors they had no role in choosing. These include assistant surgeons, emergency room doctors and anesthesiologists.

Most research and media coverage focuses on how burdensome these bills are for the patients who receive them. As health economists and policy analysts, we think there is a broader impact of surprise billing that deserves to share the spotlight.

Evidence from our recent study suggests that everyone with commercial health insurance is paying higher premiums today because lawmakers allow the practice of surprise billing to persist. Fixing surprise billing won’t just help the patients being billed; it offers the potential to lower health insurance premiums for everyone.

Patients can typically choose their doctors before they get treated. For example, they might pick a primary care doctor or the hospital and surgeon for a planned procedure based on reputation and whether those providers are in their insurance network. Picking a doctor who is in their insurance provider’s network typically comes with lower costs for the patient.

When the system works well, a patient ends up with a provider they like at a price negotiated by their insurer.

But patients don’t always have the opportunity to make this informed choice. In an emergency, a patient accepts the ambulance that arrives on the scene and the physicians who treat them in the emergency room. For elective procedures, even though the patient chooses the hospital and lead surgeon, they do not choose the radiologists, pathologists and anesthesiologists who are integral to their care.

About one in five commercially insured patients treated at an in-network emergency room is seen