Kenneth Feinberg does not have an easy job.
Thursday morning, the fund administrator for the Gulf Coast Claims Facilty faced a crowd of disgruntled fishermen, restaurant owners and seafood processors in the Northshore Harbor Center, and tried to convince them they will get compensated for the money they have lost due to the BP oil spill.
Fienberg was appointed as fund administrator of the GCCF by Presidnet Obama. He will decide how much money victims of the oil spill will get from the $20 billion BP has put into a trust fund. Feinberg is no stranger to this type of work. Before this, he was the fund administrator for families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York City and Washington, D.C.
Feinberg started off by saying the compensation program is only two weeks old, but already has handed out $66 million. That statement was greeted by disbelief from the audience.
Several fishermen told Feinberg, that they had filled out the necessary paperwork, and though they were promised payment in seven days, they still had not gotten a check after two weeks.
“I could care less about other claims or the $66 million. I just care about my claim,” said fisherman Josh Faucheaux. He said that BP paid him in less than a week, and eight days later, he is still waiting for money from the GCCF.
“I get 27 different answers when I call them up,” Faucheaux told Feinberg.
Others claimed that the GCCF was not paying them enough for what they had lost in the past six months. Karen Yacich, who worked for a now-defunct oyster company said that after filing claims for all her fellow workers, and getting laid off, all she got was $1,300 for her losses over the past six months.
“I’m really irritated,” Yacich said. “I did all the work, and I got screwed.”
Feinberg admitted that the system needed “tweaking”, and he understands the frustration of the people.
“We have to find a way to speed up the process,” Feinberg said.
He said one of the biggest problems with the payouts is getting the right documentation for the losses, but he added that the GCCF was pretty lenient when it came to documentation.
“Submit whatever you think will help,” he told the audience. “Tax forms? OK. Claim Checks? OK. Statements from your captains or even a parish priest? That’s OK too.”
He said that right now, the GCCF is only concerned with paying out emergency funds for money lost in the past six months. He emphasized that there are no waiver of rights to this money. If after accepting the check, a person wants to sue BP, they can do so.
However, he said that the deadline for filing a claim for emergency funds is Nov. 23. After that, the GCCF will hand out what is called Final Payments, and for that, recipients will have to sign a waiver that they won’t sue.
Feinberg said another problem he is working on is to find out how far into the future the CCCF should pay to compensate victims. He said he has been told that the oil spill might affect fishermen for more than a year, but he is still trying to answer that question.
Feinberg told a lawyer representing non-governmental environmental agencies that helped to clean up the oil spill that these organizations can also file for a claim.
He also agreed with some in the audience that a board of appeal should be set up so that unsatisfactory payments can be heard and resolved. Feinberg also agreed with lawyer Luan Tran, who represents Vietnamese fishermen, that there should be improvement in translating the documents and process for fishermen who do not speak English.
Feinberg was not combative or argumentative. In fact, he seemed eager to please the audience. For most of the problems he heard, his answer was that he would look into the case, or get one of his staff to get back to the complainant.
After the presentation, Feinberg said he expected to be met with some hostility.
“I’m not surprised by the criticism. I expected it,” he said. “I want to speed the process up, and I am determined to make this work.”
Feinberg said that Congressman Steve Scalise urged him to come talk to the fishermen.
“You can’t solve it from Washington,” he said. “You can expect me to be down here a lot.”
He still defended the GCCF. “Something must be right, we’ve paid out $66 million so far.” Currently, the GCCF is processing 1,000 claims a day, but Feinberg said that number should be increased.
“People are justifiably upset, and more needs to be done,” he said.