Feinberg explains new claims programJul 21st, 2010 | By Terri Sercovich | Category: news
So many Plaquemines residents and business owners squeezed into St. Patrick’s New Life Center last week, extra chairs were set up behind the speaker’s table. The crowd came to see Kenneth Feinberg, the man President Barack Obama selected to administer the $20 billion set aside by BP for claims.
Feinberg, who is best known as Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which distributed nearly $7 billion to more than 5,000 survivors and families of victims from the 2001 attacks, attended several town hall meetings in Coastal Louisiana to explain how the BP claims process will work under his charge.
“Accelerated” was his key word.
“We’ve got to accelerate the payments, accelerate the process,” he said after clarifying that he only oversees private individual claims and business claims, not government claims.
The updated program will be a continuation of the already established BP claims process. This means that those who have already filed a claim with BP do not have to re-file. All claims numbers for individuals and businesses will remain the same.
What changes is that instead of a month-to-month payment system, eligible claims applicants will receive a check for six-months emergency compensation.
“Within a matter of days— six months compensation,” Feinberg explained.
His office will take into account the seasonality of the fishing industry, he said. So if a fishermen or business owner can prove the summer and fall months are the half of year that most of his or her income is made, the compensation will reflect that. A full year’s income will not be divided by 12 months then evenly distributed.
Filing to get into this program has a time constraint.
“I suspect that 90 days after oil stops, that will be the end of filing,” Feinberg said.
The six-months emergency compensation is a one-time payment. After that, the Gulf Coast Claims Fund will offer a lump sum payment, which comes with some requirements.
First, the individual or business owner must submit a timeline of sorts to the office.
Feinberg used the example of a fisherman proposing 18-months until he will be able to fish again. The Gulf Coast Claims Fund must acknowledge that 18-months is indeed an expected time period.
“If you think it’s likely that you can’t fish for 15 years and you can convince me, then that’s 15 years lump sum,” Feinberg said.
If the proposed time period is approved, a check will be cut for the entire time period.
However, before accepting the check, the individual or business owner must sign a contract agreeing not to sue BP.
The lump sum payments do not have to be filed immediately after the six-months of payments run out.
Feinberg said that the Gulf Coast Claims Fund will have a presence in Coastal Louisiana for three years.
Someone can file for the lump sum anytime in those three years, he said.
“The $20 billion is not a cap,” he said. BP will honor all claims approved by his office, even if it exceeds $20 billion, Feinberg said.
District Attorney Charles Ballay questioned the three year window and a potential conflict with statutes of limitations.
Feinberg responded that he would look into making changes to the statutes and if changes were not possible, individuals and business owners would be urged to apply sooner.
All payments must be backed up by proof, Feinberg said.
“Show me your tax return. Show me checkbooks. Show me some documentation,” Feinberg said. “Have your priest come in and vouch for you. Have your ship captain vouch for you.
“I’m not here to challenge you, but I’m here to follow the law,” he said.
At this point, corroboration of past income is made at the already established claims offices. But in six-weeks, Feinberg said the process can be done online.
Anyone’s attorney is welcome to participate in all parts of the payment process, Feinberg, a lawyer himself, said.
An issue one attendant brought up was that over the last few years, business has been bad for fishermen, especially shrimpers. There have been strikes to protest the cheap prices of imported shrimp. In other years, fuel costs have been so high, boats didn’t go out.
Feinberg said applicants can bring in multiple years of work or income history, but at some point “I have to say don’t blame the oil spill.”
“But this was going to be our year,” a woman cried out from the audience.
Another attendant asked about injuries, both physical and mental.
Feinberg said physical injury compensation will be based on the extent of the injury and other factors, such as if the injured person has insurance.
“If your claim is mental— anxiety, stress— No,” Feinberg said, adding if they allowed mental injuries then people in Montana who watch too much oil spill coverage on CNN would qualify.
The cultural loss is also something that is not covered by the Gulf Coast Claims Fund.
“Money can’t replace seven generations lost,” Feinberg said about fishing families.
Lump sum subtractions
One part of the program stung a few attendants. Any work done during the months of the spill will be calculated and eventually subtracted from the lump sum payment.
Feinberg explained that the compensation money was to bring people up to what they should have been making. If they got on with BP’s Vessel of Opportunity program and had income from that, then compensation changes.
This includes contract work for restaurants who catered and anyone else who seeks the six-month emergency payment.
“You’re getting the money,” Feinberg said. “You can’t even get out there (to fish). They won’t let you fish. You’re eligible.”
“It is my opinion that you are crazy not to participate,” he said. “Even if you don’t need money right now, file.”
“I do not work for the federal government. I do not work for the state of Louisiana. I do not work for BP,” Feinberg stated, although later he confirmed that he is getting paid by BP. “Don’t think that I am a government official. I am not. I am a private citizen.
“I am independent and beholden only to you folks.”
There is one claims office in Plaquemines Parish in Boothville. It is open 8 a.m. – 7 p.m., seven days per week. Its phone number is 504.534.7801.