Wages earned in oil spill cleanup may not be deducted from claims


Amid growing criticism, the man in charge of oil spill damage payments said Monday that he is considering a significant change to the process that would mean more money for working people on the Gulf Coast.

Ken Feinberg told a crowd of about 300 in Houma, La., that he might waive a requirement that his adjusters subtract from people’s spill claims any wages that they earned from helping out in the cleanup.

“I’m taking it under advisement,” Feinberg said. “The last time I said, ‘No way, I’m deducting it.’ Now it’s open for discussion.”

Feinberg is the administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which has been paying individual and business claims since Aug. 23 from a $20 billion fund set up by BP PLC. He is scheduled to be in Orange Beach on Wednesday for a town hall meeting at 12:30 p.m. at the Orange Beach Recreation Center on Wilson Boulevard.

The rule about claims deductions has generated criticism that enterprise and extra effort counted for nothing for those made jobless when the spill erupted.

For example, a shrimper who served in BP’s Vessels of Opportunity program would see those extra earnings taken out of his claims checks.

That complaint is one of several being leveled against Feinberg’s processing procedures.

In a Press-Register online chat on Monday, two readers said they were charged a wire transfer fee when the claims operation direct-deposited their checks. And several said they received only a fraction of the money they sought with no explanation for the reduced sum.

There are more than 38,000 unpaid emergency claims, according to data made available Saturday night. Feinberg’s operation had paid out more than $112 million, the data showed.

The claims facility employs 25 people to approve or deny claims, and they’re processing about 1,000 claims a day.

BP paid out $398 million before it turned the claims process over to Feinberg, who was chosen by President Barack Obama amid complaints of delayed checks and arduous documentation requirements.

Now Feinberg is the focus of much of the claims ire.

In Houma, Feinberg listened as shrimpers, boat workers and others came up to a microphone and yelled their demands. Some cursed. Others shouted insults.

One angry man charged toward Feinberg after the event, demanding to speak to him personally. Several police officers swarmed around Feinberg.

Glenn Poche, a 61-year-old shrimper from Lafitte, La., said he had received only a $600 emergency claims payment for six months of lost earnings.

“He gave me $3.30 a day to live on,” Poche said. “I can’t pay my bills.”

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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