Hugo Chavez, the fiery president of oil-rich Venezuela, is pumping up the volume - of cheap fuel oil for low-income New Yorkers.
And he's named a Kennedy as head salesman.
Individual homeowners and cooperatives in four of the city's five boroughs will be able to buy cheap fuel this winter from an oil-for-the-poor program, sources have told the Daily News.
CITGO Petroleum, the U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, has earmarked 25 million gallons of fuel for low-income New York residents this year at 40% off the wholesale market price.
That's enough fuel to heat 70,000 apartments, covering 200,000 New Yorkers, for the entire winter.
Chavez launched the program last December in the South Bronx and other parts of the Northeast. CITGO delivered 1million gallons of discounted oil to three nonprofit South Bronx housing groups in a pilot project.
This winter's expanded program will be administered by Citizens Energy Corp., the Massachusetts nonprofit company founded by former Rep. Joseph Kennedy. The company ran similar pilot efforts last year in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
This year's program will go beyond the South Bronx to Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens - and now individual homeowners and cooperatives will be eligible, in addition to the nonprofit housing groups, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-Bronx) said.
In order to qualify, the homeowner or co-op members will have to meet the same income eligibility requirements as the federal government's lowincome energy assistance program.
For thousands of fixed-income senior citizens in this town who own their own homes and worry about rising fuel bills, the Chavez program will be an early Christmas gift.
No wonder the Venezuelan leader and his Bolivarian Revolution have become Latin America's biggest headache for the Bush White House and its buddies at ExxonMobil and Chevron.
While the oil companies rake in obscene profits by the hour from the high price of oil, Chavez, who is in town this week for the UN General Assembly, keeps devising new schemes to use Venezuela's oil bonanza to benefit the needy around the world.
Last year, Chavez offered up to 8 million gallons to the South Bronx groups, but only 1 million was actually delivered because of delays in launching the project and a mild winter, Serrano said yesterday.
Still, more than 8,000 residents in 2,800 South Bronx apartments saw big savings in their fuel bills from the pilot effort, Serrano said.
One of those was Patrice White-McGleese, 36, who lives with her husband and three children in a building operated by the Mount Hope Housing Corp.
"We received deductions in our rent each month that totaled $300 for the heating season," White-McGleese said yesterday.
The Bronx program became difficult to launch, Serrano said, because most residents in his district are tenants, not homeowners, and CITGO officials wanted ironclad guarantees that the fuel savings would benefit the residents - and not end up in the pockets of landlords.
So each nonprofit housing group had to sign a lengthy contract with CITGO that promised to pass on 60% of the fuel savings to tenants as rent credits and the rest for buildingwide improvements.
White-McGleese got to personally thank Chavez during a visit to Venezuela in April. She was part of a delegation from the pilot cities, and was flown by CITGO to Caracas to tour the country and meet with local housing groups.
"I wanted to see for myself and not just listen to what our State Department tells us," White-McGleese said. Anyone who is actually helping to reduce her bills deserves to be heard, she figured.