Moral Low Ground


‘The Moral High Ground’: Venezuela Resumes Heating Oil Donations to 400,000 Americans as Obama & Congress Slash LIHEAP Heating Assistance in Dead of Winter

Venezuela’s state-owned oil company has resumed heating oil assistance to hundreds of thousands of needy Americans, an especially welcome move as President Obama and Congress announced drastic cuts to a federal program that has subsidized home heating oil for low-income households for 30 years.

Just in time for winter’s worst chill, President Barack Obama and Congress have reduced Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding by 25%. LIHEAP assistance consists of one-time payments to qualified households, disbursements that averaged $417. In order to qualify, households must have incomes of less than 150% of the federal poverty level or 60% of the median state poverty level.

The government paid out some $4.7 billion in LIHEAP assistance in 2011; for 2012 only $3.5 billion has been set aside for the program. Some 9 million homes received LIHEAP aid in 2011. Mark Wolfe, director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA), an advocacy group for home energy subsidies, told the Huffington Post that the budget cuts mean around a million fewer households will receive the help they need.

Soaring heating oil costs have exacerbated the problem. One gallon of heating oil is selling for $3.83, more than 50 cents more than it cost at this time a year ago and more expensive than any time since 1990.

“We’ll really see the problems next month,” Wolfe told the Huffington Post. “We’ve never gone into the winter before with heating oils this high.”

When Obama took office in 2009, LIHEAP funding was doubled from $2.5 billion to $5 billion as part of the economic stimulus package. With a $15 trillion– that’s 15 with 12 zeros– national debt looming large over the nation’s finances, the program– like so many others– is on the chopping block.

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle lobbied unsuccessfully to keep LIHEAP funding at the $4.7 billion 2011 level.

“Even though the number of households eligible for the program continues to exceed those receiving assistance, this funding has been a lifeline during the economic downturn and rising energy costs, helping to ensure that people do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and paying for food or medicine,” wrote Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) in a letter to President Obama.

NEADA says that 90% of the households that received LIHEAP assistance last year had at least one member deemed “vulnerable,” or someone over the age of 60, under 18 or disabled. Ralph Olivieri, an 81-year-old from Coventry, Rhode Island, is one of them. He told the Huffington Post that he and his wife Alexis will run out of heating oil in a matter of weeks after receiving around $400 in aid.

“I got the temperature down to 65, and I got to keep a jacket on and a couple of sweaters in the house, because I never know when the next oil’s gonna come,” he said.

Thank goodness for CITGO. The Venezuelan oil company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela, is resuming a program in which around 500,000 needy Americans received free home heating oil in the winter months each year. The  CITGO-Venezuela Heating Oil Program began in 2005, much to the chagrin of the Bush administration, which loathed Venezuela’s popular leftist President Hugo Chavez. Conservative Americans called the program a propaganda play, but to the millions who’ve received the assistance over the last seven years, it’s nothing less than a lifeline.

This year, the CITGO program will help more than 400,000 Americans in 25 states, including 250 homeless shelters.

As much as he is demonized for his alleged anti-American stance (he is not anti-American, but rather anti-imperialist), Chavez surely has something to do with the CITGO program and those who receive desperately needed help appreciate it.

“All I know is he was kind to the people of the United States,” Alice Maniotis, a New York grandmother of seven on a fixed income who is a recipient of Venezuelan aid told RT. “He rules differently, like Obama rules differently. Who are we to tell these people how to live? Are they invading our country? They’re not. They’re being generous to give us what comes out of their earth at no charge. So could you really have ill feelings against them?”

“CITGO is very proud to mark the seventh anniversary of our heating oil program,” said CITGO president and CEO Alejandro Granado. “We don’t want families to have to choose between heating their homes or buying basic necessities such as food or medicine. No one should be forced to make those types of decisions.”

In today’s America, millions of people do have to make those tough decisions. But thanks to Venezuela and CITGO, hundreds of thousands of needy Americans will have one less thing to worry about this winter.

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One Comment

  1. CraigJanuary 13, 2012 at 12:46 pmReply

    Thank goodness someone is watching out for us besides our own government. We cannot rely on assistance from other countries. When will we be able to take care of ourselves?

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