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Heating oil begins to flow in Citgo/Citizens aid program

Brian Wright O’Connor | 2/4/2009, 5:28 a.m.
Citizens Energy Corporation Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy II (right) greets Roland Jones at the launch of the joint heating assistance program sponsored by Citizens and Citgo Petroleum. For more, see the story on pg. 7. Erint Images

WASHINGTON — Roland Jones hasn’t changed his address in over 40 years. It’s the thermostat that keeps moving.

“Every year, it seems I set it lower and lower,” said Jones, 63, as he adjusted a blanket over his lap.

The retired D.C. custodian, who lost the lower half of his left leg to diabetes, finds it more difficult than ever to pay for heating oil for his Anacostia bungalow. While trying to get by on Social Security and a small pension, Jones pays close to $1,500 annually for two fills of his 275-gallon heating oil tank. Food, prescriptions, household expenses, medical bills — there just isn’t much left over at the end of every month to afford heat.

An annual subsidy from the federal fuel assistance program helps, but with the doubling of fuel prices over the last several years, even that doesn’t go very far. Three years ago, Jones saw a television commercial about heating assistance from Citizens Energy Corporation and Citgo Petroleum.

“I called right away and got 100 gallons of free oil,” said Jones, who gets around his house in a wheelchair with the occasional help of a visiting health aide. “It really helps during the winter.”

Last week, Jones and his health assistant drove from his home in southeast Washington to a homeless shelter in the upper northwest part of D.C. to attend the kickoff of the 2009 heating oil program. Arriving late after a wrong turn on Georgia Avenue, Jones’ assistant wheeled him up the sidewalk to a podium where Citizens Energy Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy II and Citgo President Alejandro Granado had just announced the first delivery of the season — to the Dorothy Day Catholic Workers House, one of 214 shelters receiving heating assistance from the program.

Jones’ home was one of nearly 200,000 individual households in 16 states that received fuel as part of the program last year. In addition, more than 200 Native American communities received energy assistance through the initiative.

The program got off to a late start this year after plummeting oil prices forced Citgo, which is owned by the Venezuelan national oil company, to re-evaluate all its social commitments. The direct intervention of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez kept the program going.

“In light of the current global financial crisis, Citgo is making a huge effort to continue its social programs in alignment with the solidarity principles endorsed by the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” said the Citgo CEO, just after pumping over 200 gallons of fuel into the shelter’s fill-pipe.

“We know this is a big effort. Due to the limited resources that are available at the present time, we at Citgo are extremely proud of being able to continue the Citgo-Venezuela Heating Oil Program to help the most vulnerable in this country,” said Granado.

Kennedy, standing next to Granado at the back door of the rambling 1895 Italianate home, which houses five young mothers and their nine children, commended Citgo and Venezuela for continuing the commitment while noting that no other oil companies or OPEC nations have stepped forward to provide heating assistance.

This year marks the fourth season that Citgo has donated oil to Citizens Energy, a Boston-based nonprofit, for distribution to low-income families, shelters and Indian tribes. The program was first launched in the wake of hurricanes Rita and Katrina, which caused a huge spike in the price of oil.

The site of last week’s launch is one of over 100 facilities operated by members of the loosely affiliated Dorothy Day Catholic Workers Movement in cities around the country.

“This house is so helpful for many people just like me who have trouble in this world,” said Griselda, a woman who lives at the D.C. shelter with her three young children.

Households interested in receiving oil assistance can call 877-JOE-4-OIL (877-563-4645) to fill out an application, said Kennedy.