Elmer Rogers doesn’t know what else he can do. In applying for some of the $20 billion that BP is setting aside for those harmed by this year’s historic oil spill, the 43-year-old fisher from Gretna presented a stack of supporting documents to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.
He didn’t just show those documents to somebody low on the organization’s totem poll.
Quite the opposite: Mr. Rogers won an audience with claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg himself, and he showed him his tax returns, trip tickets, fishing licenses and sworn statements. He’d be paid within 48 hours, he says Mr. Feinberg promised.
That was three months ago.
As of this week, Mr. Rogers had yet to receive anything. He’s been told that his claim is legitimate and that he should have been dispensed $46,000 the very day he met with Mr. Feinberg. But he hasn’t received a check, and he’s understandably angry.
Mr. Rogers is hardly the only fisher who’s frustrated with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. He’s one of many thousands. About 30,000 applicants – many of them ethnic Vietnamese – have been unable to collect on their loss-of-subsistence fishing claims.
Another group of applicants has gotten money after making some kind of claim, but people in that group haven’t gotten an amount equivalent to their stated losses. Then there are people like Mr. Rogers who say they’ve provided everything they’ve been asked but have been inexplicably kept waiting.
Mr. Feinberg received high marks for the way he handled claims made by family members who lost relatives during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but the number of people directly harmed by the oil spill greatly exceeds the number of people who lost close family members on Sept. 11. People of varying professions were harmed in varying degrees from the spill, which only adds to the complexity of the situation.
Nevertheless, Mr. Feinberg promised that legitimate applicants could expect to receive money within a day or two. Yet, many applicants have languished for months without receiving anything, and Mr. Feinberg appears loath to blame his organization for that. If a person’s been waiting for money since August, he told The Times-Picayune, there must be something wrong with the application. “All I can say is there’s a very, very good reason for it.” Apparently not so good a reason that he can share it with frustrated applicants. Mr. Rogers says he doesn’t know why he hasn’t gotten a payment.
Mr. Feinberg’s presence here along the Gulf Coast is supposed to guarantee that people with legitimate claims can get damages they’re owed by BP without having to give a portion of it to a hired lawyer. Yet, hundreds of people were so frustrated with Mr. Feinberg’s slow pace that they lined up in the cold this month to sign over a third of any money they get to attorney Tim Porter if Mr. Porter can help them secure the money. That should be a sign to Mr. Feinberg how frustrated people are with him and his organization.
He set high expectations when he said that people who suffered because of BP’s spill could get money quickly. Yet, Mr. Rogers had his lights and water cut off Monday. His money hasn’t come quickly enough.