Like his father Bob and Uncle Ted, former U.S. representative Joe Kennedy II has spent his life committed to public service. As a congressman, he addressed issues affecting people who did not have a voice in Washington, supporting issues like low-income housing, community reinvestment, and consumer protections.
Today, Kennedy is chairman and President of Citizens Energy Corporation, a non-profit he founded in 1979 that provides discounted heating oil to low-income families, senior citizens, and the poor.
In 2005, Kennedy’s Citizens Energy teamed up with the Venezuelan state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) and its subsidiary CITGO with the support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. That partnership has helped more than 1.7 million Americans in 25 states and the District of Columbia to keep warm, according to Moral Low Ground.
Since 2005, that unique relationship, needless to say, stirred up criticism, especially from Conservatives who seem to be hell-bent against anything that benefits low-income Americans. They say Chávez is an ally of Iran, supports North Korea, and is a close friend of Fidel Castro. They say Chávez is “trying to shape U.S. public opinion in the hope that more gringos will come to see the Chávez government as benevolent.”
Right-winger, Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr criticized Kennedy’s Citizens Energy salary, claiming he earns $1 million, although Kennedy’s money came from his other Citizens Energy affiliated for-profit organizations.
Also helping is the Department of Health and Human Services’ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). But funding is dwindling. The President’s budget proposal in 2012 significantly reduced funding. For FY 2011 it was $4.5 billion while the funding for FY 2012 has dwindled to $3.47 billion.
And, on March 1, “If sequestration goes forward, LIHEAP will face an additional $177 million in benefit cuts. That is on top of the $1.6 billion in reductions to the program that have occurred since 2010,” according to Congressman Ed Markey. Yet, despite record profits, every year Congress continues to subsidize Big Oil companies to the tune of $8 billion in taxpayers’ money.
On January 31, Citizens Energy Corporation and CITGO Petroleum Corporation kicked off the eighth annual CITGO-Venezuela Heating Oil Program at the Night of Peace Family Shelter in Baltimore with their first delivery of oil for the season.
Citizens Energy-CITGO and LIHEAP are the two most important energy assistance programs in the United States. There should not be criticism nor funding reduced when no one else is willing to step forward to help and while Congress continues to subsidize Big Oil, regardless of whether Chávez is trying to shape public opinion or not.
Kennedy said, “… that he has approached numerous major oil-producing nations as well as some of the largest US oil companies and asked them if they were interested in helping the poor heat their homes. I don’t see Exxon responding, don’t see other major oil companies heating the homes of the poor. They all said no except for CITGO, President Chávez and the people of Venezuela.”
Citizens Energy Corporation, citizensenergy.com
Office of Community Services, FY 2012 Total LIHEAP Funds, acf.hhs.gov
Eighth Annual CITGO-Venezuela Heating Oil Program to Help More Than 100,000 Families Stay Warm This Winter, prnewswire.com
Rev. Dr. Colin A. Phillips, Executive Director, Night of Peace Family Shelter Inc., nightofpeace.com