Citgo suspends low-income oil program

Venezuelan company says economic crisis and reduced prices force it to re-evaluate social programs.

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By Julianne Pepitone, CNNMoney.com contributing writer

How will the Obama stimulus proposal affect the economy?
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Venezuela's Citgo Petroleum is suspending a program that provides discounted home heating oil to lower-income residents in U.S. communities, an energy group announced Monday.

The global economic slowdown and falling oil prices have forced Citgo to re-evaluate its social programs and indefinitely suspend the heating oil program, said Citizens Energy Corporation chairman Joseph P. Kennedy II, in a written statement.

The Citgo-Venezuela Heating Oil Program drew its share of skeptics when it began in 2005. Some accused President Hugo Chavez - a frequent U.S. critic who called President Bush "the devil" in a 2006 U.N. speech - of using the heating oil program as a public-relations tool for his country.

Funded by Citgo and administered by Citizens Energy, the program "has provided hundreds of thousands of low-income U.S. households with much-needed fuel" for three years, Kennedy said in the statement.

Kennedy stressed that Citizens Energy is advocating to continue the program, but the decision ultimately lies with Citgo, the Texas-based branch of the government-owned parent company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A.

Kennedy encouraged people to write to Chavez "to tell him the stories you have told me of the difference the generous donation of heating oil has made to so many of our fellow Americans."

Citizens Energy is waiting for word from Citgo, and will use other sources to continue aid programs in Massachusetts, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, Kennedy said. To top of page

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