Citgo, the Venezuelan government's U.S.-based oil subsidiary, reversed course yesterday and said it will continue shipments of heating oil to poor families in the United States, including in Maryland.
The announcement came two days after Kennedy said Citgo was suspending fuel assistance, with the company noting falling oil prices and the world economic crisis.
About 4,000 Maryland residents received deliveries of 100 gallons of heating oil free of charge last winter. About 100 million gallons were distributed in participating states through the program, which began three years ago.
Citgo Petroleum chief executive Alejandro Granado made the announcement in Boston, saying Citgo had found a way to continue paying for oil shipments.
"This is a big effort," Granado said. "This is a sacrifice."
Ralph Markus, director of Maryland's office of home energy programs, said yesterday that Citgo's turnaround was good news for Marylanders who had hoped to receive assistance through the program.
"I think certainly any assistance that could be obtained is worthwhile," he said.
Markus noted that his office received more federal aid to help those in need this winter, but "even with the additional money, it's helpful to have additional benefits coming in from another organization like that."
Applications for energy assistance have steadily increased since 2002, jumping up to 15 percent last fiscal year. The state office expects the number of applications to climb as much as 20 percent by the end of this fiscal year, ending in June.
Residents have to apply for federal and state energy assistance to qualify for the Citizens Energy program, Markus said, and the office sent applications to those who received aid last year.
Chavez provides fuel for 200,000 households in 23 states under a program that has come under fire in the United States.
Critics say the program is a ploy by Chavez to undermine the Bush administration.
Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, said the decision to continue oil shipments was made "with direct involvement of President Chavez."
The Associated Press and Baltimore Sun reporter Hanah Cho contributed to this article.