José Serrano

The program was initially proposed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, during his September visit to New York for a United Nations assembly, weeks after hurricane Katrina left thousands of poor U.S. residents without assistance from U.S. federal and local authorities.

"The low-income residents of my district who will benefit from this historic agreement are going to see real savings and improvements in their quality of life," Congressman Serrano said.

"We are truly grateful to CITGO and the Venezuelan people for their generosity. It is absolutely shameful that no American oil company has similarly stepped forward to help communities struggling with high energy costs during the winter heating season, especially in view of their record profits these last months," the Congressman added.
Non-profit organizations will actively participate in the program, helping to reduce the final cost of the oil to the consumers. Under the terms of the arrangement, the heating oil will be sold and delivered to the non-profits groups at a discount of 40 percent through April 1, 2006.

The savings generated will be both reinvested in the community, through social programs run by the housing corporations, and given back to the tenants of the buildings, in the form of rent reductions or other benefits.

"This effort in New York, along with the program we announced last month for Massachusetts and our efforts to provide unscheduled deliveries of refined gasoline and other fuels in the immediate aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita to hold down price increases, is our effort as corporate citizens to help Americans who need a helping hand," said CITGO CEO Félix Rodríguez. CITGO, a 100-year-old U.S. company, is wholly owned by the Venezuelan oil company PdVSA.

CITGO has agreed to provide up to 8 million gallons of the discounted oil, potentially representing millions of dollars in savings. The program will initially benefit some 8,000 low-income residents of The Bronx.

The three recipient non-profit groups will be the Mt. Hope Housing Corporation, the Fordham-Bedford Housing Corporation, and VIP Community Services. Other housing corporations, churches, health clinics, and hospitals are in negotiations for possible inclusion in the program.
"Some have tried to read politics into these outreach programs," said Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez, "but they should not do so. This is a humanitarian gesture on the part of the Venezuelan people to our neighbors in need. It flows out of a promise President Chavez made during his trip to New York shortly after the hurricanes caused such havoc. It is consistent with our outreach to other countries in the Americas, using our oil to assist in economic development and regional integration. We are all Americans."

"VIP Community Services is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the low cost heating oil program," said Bernardo Rodriguez, Senior Vice President of VIP. "Because of the reductions in our costs, we will be able to enrich services to tenants and of course the rent reduction will mean a great deal to our tenants as well."

"Not only should the other major oil companies be embarrassed this winter for failing to help low-income Americans with their record-high heating bills, but our government is failing its citizens in this regard as well," Serrano said. "Cuts to the amount federal assistance available through the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program at this time are insensitive and wrong. We should be seeking to increase the help for our most vulnerable this winter. I applaud CITGO for its good sense of corporate responsibility."

The low-cost heating oil program was launched in the state of Massachusetts, but developed specifically for the Bronx by Congressman Serrano and CITGO. President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Congressman Serrano began discussions about the program during a visit to the Bronx in September, 2005.