ORANGE BEACH, Ala. – Oil spill claims czar Ken Feinberg promised several hundred people improvements in the speed, generosity and transparency of his program today, but offered few specific examples of actions he would take to accomplish those things.
Meanwhile, he listened at the town hall meeting at the Orange Beach Community Center as dozens of people told him they filed their claim weeks ago and have heard nothing.
At the beginning of the meeting, state Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Fairhope, asked everyone in the room to stand up if they had filed a claim. Nearly all of the several hundred in attendance did. Pittman then asked only those who had received payments to remain standing. All but about two dozen sat down.
Pittman then asked only those who got everything they asked for to remain standing. All but one sat down.
Feinberg said he believes his Gulf Coast Claims Facility has made positive strides since it took over the compensation process from BP on Aug. 23. It has approved more than 16,000 claims and paid out more than $151 million to individuals and businesses as of Tuesday night.
However, nearly 56,000 emergency claims have been submitted, meaning the vast majority are still unpaid.
Feinberg had said he would pay workers within 48 hours of their claim being documented, and businesses within seven days, but on Wednesday he acknowledged he had fallen short.
“It is clear to me that I over-promised and under-delivered,” he said.
Feinberg said he would accelerate payments, but did not say how. He said he has 40 people in Washington D.C. making decisions on claims – up from 25 last week – but said hiring additional employees is not the answer.
Kennon suggested Feinberg simplify the process. Instead of using forensic accountants to determine how much money each eligible claimant should receive, Feinberg should give 100 percent of the emergency claim and then deduct any overpayment from the final claim.
“I promise you could never overpay this community for what we went through this summer,” Kennon said.
Feinberg said he would consider the proposal.
Several people complained about the size of their checks. One man said he requested $30,000 and got $1,200. Another woman said she lost her business, submitted a claim for $120,000 and got $5,800.
Feinberg said he had to make his checks more generous. He said he would try to make documentation requirements less stringent. He also said he is leaning to changing his policy to not deduct earnings from BP’s Vessels of Opportunity program from emergency checks.
Feinberg said he also plans to appoint a person in each Gulf Coast state to answer questions people have about the status of their claims.
Feinberg also had one last promise for the people in the audience. He brought 20 adjusters with him to the meeting. He told people in the crowd that if they met with the adjusters, gave them their claim numbers and made sure all their financial documents were filed, he would make sure their claims were processed faster.
“When will they get their checks?” Kennon asked him.
“In a few days,” Feinberg said.
Nearly everyone in the crowd broke out in laughter.