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Gulf Coast Residents in Financial Dire Straits, Waiting for BP Claims

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Monday, September 13, 2010 at 4:45 am

Oil mars the Mississippi coast. (Flickr/TalkMediaNews)

Christine Watson, of Destin, Fla., has to come up with $1,900 this week or she’ll be evicted from her apartment. She also just received a notice that her electricity will be shut off if she doesn’t pay up soon. So Watson did something she says she’s never done before. “I’ll be honest. I gave them a bum check. I gave them a check and figured if it’s going to bounce, it’s going to bounce,” she says.

[Environment1] Watson lost her job as manager of a natural health and fitness store in June, when, in the aftermath of the oil spill, the store’s owner let all of the employees go. As tarballs started popping up on the nearby beach, tourism in the area dropped sharply. Profits at the store — which offers foot baths, saunas and body wraps for beach-goers — dropped in turn.

It’s been a rough year for Watson and her family. She and her husband lost everything when their construction company failed last year. Unable to pay the bills, they fell behind on their mortgage and their house went into foreclosure. Her husband hasn’t been able to find a job, becoming part of the nearly one in eight Floridians is unemployed.

A nutrition counselor, Watson found work at the natural health and fitness store. While she says it wasn’t easy, the Watson family was able to get by on the money she pulled in from working there. But now, nearly five months after the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that led to the country’s biggest oil spill, Watson finds herself down and out again.

“We were very financially stable,” Watson says. “Now everything has changed. We have spent everything we have. I’m 46 and I’ve never been through anything like this.”

For Watson and the thousands of other people who have suffered significant financial losses because of the Gulf oil spill, help isn’t coming fast enough. Watson filed a claim with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) on Aug. 23, the first day control of the claims process was transferred from BP to Kenneth Feinberg, an independent administrator chosen by President Obama. Now, three weeks later, Watson says she still has not been given a clear indication of when she’ll receive an emergency payment to help her pay the bills.

****

In a series of interviews with The Washington Independent, victims of the Gulf spill say they are frustrated by slow progress at the GCCF. Their stories show the severe toll the the losses have taken on the daily lives of Gulf residents, many of whom were just beginning to recover from the country’s sharpest economic downturn since the Great Depression.

As of Sept. 11, more than 56,000 claims have been filed with the GCCF. Of those claims, 13,641 — roughly 24 percent — have been paid. That means that more than three-quarters of the claims, many of which were filed in the first days the GCCF opened its doors, are still being processed.

In a round of interviews and public appearances before taking over as claims administrator, Feinberg — a Washington lawyer who has made a career dealing with massive claims processes — said he would work to pay claims as quickly as possible. An Aug. 23 “protocol” for emergency payments under the GCCF said that all individual claims would be “evaluated preliminarily” within 24 hours “of receipt of the completed form and supporting documentation.” Then, if eligible, a payment will be authorized within another 24 hours. Business claims would be evaluated within seven days.

This week, the GCCF acknowledged that the 48-hour time frame may be too ambitious. A note on the GCCF website said much of the documentation submitted will require more time to review. “Thus, the announced 48 hour claim determination rule for individual claims, and the 7 day claim determination rule for business claims will be extended as necessary and appropriate,” the note said.

The acknowledgment came after claimants raised concerns about the the small number of claims that had been approved and accused Feinberg of failing to follow through on his 48-hour promise. Though Feinberg’s office said last week that nearly all the claims that had not been paid lacked documentation, Feinberg spokeswoman Amy Weiss told TWI Friday that 3,000 claims have no documentation at all and 2,000 to 2,500 have some documentation, but need more. The rest (more than 35,000 claims) are still being processed.

Weiss said “the GCCF Team is working 24 hours a day, seven days a week” to process claims and has hired additional staff, bringing to 300 the total number of people working to process claims.

Under the process Feinberg has set up, claimants have until Nov. 23 to file for emergency payments to cover one to six months of losses. After Thanksgiving, victims of the spill have until 2013 to file a final claim. If they accept the claim, they must sign a document forfeiting their right to sue BP.

****

Kay Hasting, of Gulf Shore, Ala., says she might have to quit her job managing beach-front properties because people keep canceling their trips to the Gulf. Every single reservation for the month of June and July except one was canceled because oil washed up on the shore near her rentals. Like many claimants, Hasting filed an individual claim for her estimated losses ($18,000 for the summer) on the first day the GCCF opened.

Since filing her claim, Hasting has called the GCCF daily to get updates. But the facility says her claim is still pending. “Nothing has happened other than I’ve been told it’s under review,” she says. “Everybody tells you the same thing. They are reading from a script. They can’t tell you how long it’ll take. You can’t talk to any person about any specifics. All you can hear when you call is people in the background telling people, ‘I’m sorry.’”

Hasting says she is desperate to get paid as quickly as possible. Her phone and Internet service is being cut off. She cannot afford to fix her air conditioner. Her rent is three months late. Her auto insurance has run out. The storage company holding her extra possessions has put a lock on her unit until she can make her missed payments. Worst of all, she says, she couldn’t afford to fly her son home for his grandfather’s funeral in Tennessee last week. “We just didn’t have the money,” she says.

“My life is on hold,” she says. “I can’t do anything.”

****

Other interviews with claimants paint a similar picture of frustration and desperation. A woman in Florida, who asked not to be named because she fears it might impact her claim, sent an e-mail to the GCCF begging for consideration of her claim to be expedited. According to the e-mail, which was obtained by TWI:

“My claim status says my claim is being reviewed, yet no one can tell me when or what stage it is in.  If there are 45,000 claims in this stage am I number 15 or 41,000 in the line? My car was repossessed a week ago Friday and I only have until this coming Saturday (September 18, 2010) to get it back before it goes to auction.  There is no way I can purchase another car now that I’m making $8.00 an hour….September is the month we should have been able to take a break from having worked the summer months, not struggling to make ends meet, having your car repossessed and being on food stamps.”

The GCCF, in an e-mail response, said:

“Right now, we regret that we can only tell you what you likely already know, which is that your claim remains under review. Please know that we are diligently working to process all claims that come in, and that payments on claims are continually being sent. We apologize for any delays you are experiencing. Please understand that we are currently handling a large volume of claims, and are working around the clock to quickly resolve your claim and those of similarly situated individuals.”

A man who sells time shares in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., says he’s losing an average of $9,000 a month because people don’t want to buy timeshares on the beach anymore. “We were fortunate,” he says. “We actually had an emergency savings account to fall back on. But it’s pretty much depleted now. We’ve been living month to month.”

The man, who also asked not to be named, says he has been getting conflicting information from the GCCF about his claim. Some people at the facility have said that he doesn’t have the proper documentation and others have said he has all the documentation he needs. “I just have no idea,” he says.

The man also says he is unsure if he should apply for payment through a separate pool of money Feinberg has set aside for real estate agents because, as a timeshare salesman, he is not technically a real estate agent.

Like many claimants interviewed by TWI, the man is concerned he will be depicted as somebody who is looking for a handout from BP. “I don’t want to come off like I’m sitting here begging for a handout. It seems like a lot of people asking for claims now are being painted as welfare recipients and that really gets my goat,” he says. “If a hurricane hits here, OK, we’ll pick up and dust off. But this is something that we didn’t expect and we shouldn’t have to deal with.”

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Brianjdonovan
Comment posted September 13, 2010 @ 10:19 am

GCCF employs the traditional “delay, deny, defend” strategy used by insurance companies.

BP oil spill victims must know their legal rights. Here are two examples:

(a) The GCCF Protocol states, “The GCCF will only pay for harm or damage that is proximately caused by the Spill. The GCCF will take into account, among other things, geographic proximity, nature of industry, and dependence upon injured natural resources.” GCCF’s requirement that a claimant has the increased burden of proving “proximate causation” between his or her damages and the Deepwater Horizon incident is a clear violation of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA). Furthermore, paying for damages based on geographic proximity and nature of industry is also a clear violation of OPA. OPA is a strict liability statute. In order to recover damages, a claimant merely needs to show that his or her damages “resulted from” the oil spill; and

(b) In the event that a claim for damages is not paid by the responsible party (BP) within 90 days, the BP oil spill victim may elect to present the claim to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund or to commence an action in court against BP.

BP oil spill victims must be proactive. Merely reacting to GCCF is playing into BP's strategy. BP oil spill victims must be prepared to act on “Day 91.”

Here are three issues a reporter should investigate:

(a) how GCCF limits BP’s liability via the systematic postponement, reduction or denial of claims against BP;

(b) how GCCF guarantees BP’s continued long-term operation in the offshore Gulf of Mexico E&P sector; and

(c) why GCCF is not necessary to ensure that victims of the BP oil spill are fully compensated for incurred damages.

Source:

http://donovanlawgroup.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/the-gulf-coast-claims-facility-limits-bps-liability-and-guarantees-the-oil-companys-continued-operation-in-the-gulf-of-mexico/


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[...] Gulf Coast Residents in Financial Dire Straits, Waiting for BP Claims “Christine Watson, of Destin, Fla., has to come up with $1,900 this week or she’ll be evicted from her apartment. She also just received a notice that her electricity will be shut off if she doesn’t pay up soon. So Watson did something she says she’s never done before. “I’ll be honest. I gave them a bum check. I gave them a check and figured if it’s going to bounce, it’s going to bounce,” she says. [...] It’s been a rough year for Watson and her family. She and her husband lost everything when their construction company failed last year. Unable to pay the bills, they fell behind on their mortgage and their house went into foreclosure. Her husband hasn’t been able to find a job, becoming part of the nearly one in eight Floridians is unemployed.” [...]


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Comment posted September 13, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

How about folks whose unemployment has run out. Folks should be getting help longer than 1 1/2 to two years with unemployment. I'm sure the bulk of them worked longer than 2 years.Folks are in serious financial straits all over the country. BP should pay what is due to the gulf coast residents. In fact they should just buy the residents out completely because the gulf will need years to recover naturally. They found varying heights of oil coating the bottom of the gulf. This will affect the ecosystem and will flow down the food chain to humans as the fish eat the bottom feeders. Remember Minimata Disease in the fifties. Folks were eating tuna from contaminated seas and children were born with serious birth defects. BP could be insuring bad health if it tries to get out of this one.


lmason
Comment posted September 13, 2010 @ 8:06 pm

I am right here with you. On my 4th week waiting with no answers. My small nusiness went from swamped to nothing. It ia a sad time when no one is held accoutable for any of this.


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Rb3005
Comment posted September 14, 2010 @ 3:19 pm

I have been waiting for a month for EMERGENCY FUNDS because I have not worked in 2 months. I tried to wait it out to see if I could find a job so I would not have to take a hand out, but I need the help. I have a son I have to take care of as well as bills and day to day living. Calling the GCCF hotline is a joke and a waste of time. All they do is look at your status and ask if have any other questions and say goodbye..Step Down Czar Feinberg, this task is not for you!!!


Jmincarell
Comment posted September 14, 2010 @ 4:26 pm

This is todays email I sent to Feinberg. I send emails and I call his office everyday. Today I made a really big decision to stop paying my business credit cards. I will be telling these companies-especially Citibank to go get their payment from Feinberg.

Dear Mr. Feinberg,

My claim for my business is now in week 3 of the GCCF process. Please let us not forget my claim also spent several weeks in the BP process. I have been very patient waiting to get emergency assistance from BP for over 2 months now.

As stated in earlier emails regarding the above claim # – I am out of funds to carry my business, I am 2 months behind in rent, I am a single mother with a hearing disability. I have put every dime and borrowed from everyone I know to either build this business or keep it afloat over the last 4 month.

Yes my business is in Florida, yes it is one block from the Gulf, no – oil did not come a shore but neither did the tourists! I have asked for information about my claim and am very surprised there is no information. I am also very surprised your call center is in Ohio and I am really surprised that you have only 25 adjusters in an undisclosed location. You think this is a wise move! you think this will make the process more thorough! I call this inhumane for those 25 adjusters trying to process all those claims. I think this will lead to a lot of errors on their part. I don't think it is physically possible to have only 25 adjusters doing this 24/7. I am very surprised that the media hasn't called you out on this! I think your full of it Mr. Feinberg!

You have violated my Claimant Bill of Rights, you are forcing us out of business! Obviously you were sent to finish off the Gulf Coast!


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Comment posted September 14, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

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Otherwise, companies like BP will be held responsible for their actions and may end up with tighter regulation to try and prevent these types of problems – but then my gasoline costs could go up and since I don't live near the Gulf – well – I don't want to pay any more and be inconvenienced.


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Comment posted September 17, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

I am owner of mechanic I put a claim over 4 months ago I am 4 months behind on my lease I am still up for review.All i have been told is to keep hanging on and how sorry theyare for the wait


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Comment posted September 21, 2010 @ 9:08 pm

Today Tuesday the 23rd is my 30th day with 25 of them classified as in review. No matter what I ask the same answer of the claim is in review is given. On June 17th Feinberg was appointed and he knew exactly what documents he would be needing, why did he give such mi leading unrealistic claims processing times? THEN THE REVALATION THAT @% ADJUSTERS IN DC ARE THE GUYS WHO DETERMINE PAYMENTS! THE OTHER FALSE HOOD OF CLAIMS WILL BE PROCESSED ON A FIRST COME FIRST SERVE BASIS> On the first day there were close twenty thousand claims. If they were processed first come first serve there would be no open claims from the 23rd of August. My claim has had no document requests or denial letters and yet it still sits “in Review”.


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Comment posted September 24, 2010 @ 1:24 am

I finally received a claim payment after 4 weeks and it was more than I asked for, but less than what I will need. I received a phone call monday morning stating that a wire transfer would occur to my checking account. I thought the call was a prank call, but I recognized the number. Later that afternoon my wire transfer hit the bank……maybe they read this story and the fact that I gave my real name. I still don't trust what they are doing.


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YES,I have been waiting since Sep.25th. All of my co-workers,even those who filed 1 week ago have already received checks. HOW IN THE HE** is that fair??? We make same amount of money and are in the same industry. I keep thinking my adjuster forgot or lost my claim but Im told the same BS every time I call…Why have a helpline with NO HELP!!!!


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