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Feinberg acknowledges ‘mistakes,’ says fund will ‘take another look’ at denied oil spill claims

Oil spill claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg told a room full of representatives of Florida’s tourism industry that the Gulf Coast Claims Facility would “take another look” at denied claims when claimants file for final or quarterly “interim” payments. #

Speaking at a Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association meeting in Tampa, Feinberg said some claimants have been reporting inconsistencies — that their neighbors and co-wokers got paid, but they didn’t, or that they got less than they felt they deserved. #

“We’ve made some mistakes,” he said, and the facility will “take another look” at those issues when those claimants seek final and interim payments. #

Feinberg stopped short of offering a formal appeals process, which some Florida officials, including former Attorney General Bill McCollum and outgoing Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon, had been calling for. Right now, only claimants receiving more than $250,000 can appeal the fund’s decisions. #

Feinberg said it has taken him longer than expected to get a handle on the long-term outlook for the Gulf Coast, but that the claims fund he oversees will begin making quarterly “interim” and final payments in February. #

For some members of his audience, who had survived an oil-soaked summer and what for the Panhandle is a characteristically slow winter, the relief can’t come soon enough. Feinberg acknowledged that for many in the state’s hospitality industry, it’s almost time to start investing in things like advertising as they prepare for the coming season. #

“When am I going to get paid?” asked Jeff Stillwell, the owner of Barnacle Bill’s seafood restaurant in Tallahassee, warning that he could be out of business in a month or two if a check didn’t arrive. #

Feinberg pointed him to some of his newest hires — part of a group of Floridians who would be helping claimants get answers about the process, which he admitted had been one of the Gulf Coast Claims facility’s biggest shortcomings in the early going. #

People like Stillwell, whose businesses were struggling to shore up losses from over the summer or otherwise needed money urgently, could have their claims expedited, Feinberg said, while the facility prepares to begin issuing final and interim payments. #

So-called “quick payments” have been moving out the door, but he said he would also speed up payments for claimants who needed immediate help but didn’t want to chose that option. #

He also said he would also make public his eligibility criteria and formula for calculating damages. #

Earlier in the day, he held town-hall meetings in Panama City Beach and Fort Walton Beach. #

Judging by the standard set by some of his early appearances along the Gulf Coast, Feinberg’s was warmly received at the tourism group’s meeting. Its chairman, Keith Overton, announced that he has received a claim worth $800,000 for his Tradewinds Island Resort and said his relationship with Feinberg had moved from “hate” toward “the love side,” according to Bloomberg News. #

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