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CITGO’s home heating oil program continues

BOSTON – Making good on its promise last fall to continue helping American Indian and other low income communities to keep warm this winter, the Venezuelan government will continue its unique CITGO home heating oil program despite the gloomy global financial crisis.

Alejandro Granado, the chairman, president and CEO of CITGO, Venezuela’s national oil company announced the continuation of the social program at a press conference in Boston Jan. 7 with Joseph P. Kennedy, the eldest son of the late Robert F. Kennedy and chairman of Citizens Energy, a nonprofit organization that administers the Venezuelan home heating oil program.

“This decision is the result of a strong commitment and a big effort on the part of CITGO and our shareholders in light of the current global financial crisis and its impact on the oil industry in general,” Granado said.

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela launched the home heating oil program in response to an appeal from the U.S. Senate. In the fall of 2005, 13 U.S. senators wrote to the major oil companies asking them to show some “sense of corporate citizenship” by providing heating fuel aid to low-income families in the face of the Bush administration’s cuts in federal assistance. CITGO was the only oil company to step forward.

Since then, CITGO has provided hundreds of millions of gallons of heating oil to hundreds of thousands of low-income households, and tens of thousands of families in Indian country. Last year, the heating oil program provided some 200,000 households in 23 states with fuel, including more than 65 American Indian tribes and large low-income housing cooperatives in New York City. In addition, the CITGO funds provided heating grants to more than 210 homeless shelters in 14 states. The 2008-2009 heating season marks the fourth year of CITGO’s donations.

Kennedy pointed out that he is “personally aware of President Chavez’s genuine concern for the most vulnerable, regardless of where they may live. Evidence of this is that President Chávez wanted all necessary efforts made to ensure the continuation of the program, so its recipients will not be disappointed.”

Because of the falling price of crude oil over the last several months, CITGO had been forced to evaluate all its social programs, including the heating initiative.

“This decision is a clear, direct message from President Chávez of his desire to strengthen relations between his country and the United States, particularly at this time, when a new U.S. administration is scheduled to be sworn-in within the next few weeks,” Kennedy said.

Earlier in the week, Citizen’s Energy announced the suspension of the program, citing falling oil prices and the world economic crisis. News that the home heating oil program would continue was welcomed in Maine where the program began four years ago.

Former Penobscot Indian Nation Chief James Sappier was instrumental in initiating the heating oil program and traveled along the northern tier of the country with CITGO representatives to coordinate the program among tribal nations.

“When I saw in the media that the program had been suspended I said, ‘oh my God,’ and immediately sent an e-mail to all my guys at CITGO and the (Venezuelan) embassy to thank them very much for the program and tell them that I understand the economics and so on of why it would be cancelled. We got to know them personally because they came to visit and we took them up the (Penobscot) river and so I told them, ‘program or not, they were still invited to come to Maine and fish and hunt and so on,’” Sappier said.

On Jan. 7, Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez called Sappier to let him know the program is going forward.

Upwards of 600 Penobscot households both on and around Indian Island benefit from the home heating oil program, Sappier said.

“It really is an extraordinary gift, especially in these times. It was in the past too, but particularly now. We’re not rich people. I think too about the poor people in the cities like Boston and Providence and how this is really good for them as well. We do appreciate President Chavez stepping forward and making this decision with CITGO to move ahead on the program. We really do. He’s a decent guy.”

Income-eligible households interested in getting up to 100 free gallons of heating oil can call the toll-free hotline number (877) JOE-4-OIL starting Jan. 19 to apply for assistance. Citizens Energy will send out authorization letters to approved households, who then contact their local dealer to arrange deliveries.

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