Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gulf residents denied help by Dahr Jamail

Gulf residents say the firm that's being paid to handle compensation claims from BP's oil spill seems to be denying the claims of many of those most in need.

"I JUST got off the phone with Feinberg's people, and I'm really upset," says seafood merchant Michelle Chauncey from Barataria, La. Her business, which sells wholesale and retail crabs, has not provided her with an income since the end of May, and her home is being foreclosed.

Attorney Kenneth Feinberg's Washington-based firm, Feinberg Rozen, has been paid $850,000 a month by BP to administer a $20 billion compensation fund and claims process for Gulf residents and fishermen affected by the Deepwater Horizon explosion last April.

The Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), which Feinberg manages, was set up after negotiations between BP and the Obama administration, but over recent months, there has been growing concern among the Coast's residents that Feinberg is limiting compensation funds to claimants in order to decrease BP's liability.

Late last month, Feinberg told Bloomberg Television that he anticipates that about half of the $20 billion fund should be enough to cover claims for economic losses. "It remains to be seen, but I would hope that half that money would be more than enough to pay all the claims," he said.

Chauncey is angry. "[Kenneth] Feinberg told me personally I had a legitimate claim, and that he was going to personally look into my claim and see why I wasn't being paid," she explains, adding that one of Feinberg's colleagues gave her his personal number and promised to help.

"I told Feinberg's man that I know strippers who have gotten money. So if I took off my clothes...and worked in a bar, I'd have been paid, but since I have a seafood business, I haven't been paid."

"The really sad part is that my story is not isolated," Chauncey adds. "There are loads of us, and they are all in the same predicament as I am."

Rudy Toler from Gulfport, Mississippi is a fourth generation fisherman. He submitted 62 pages of documentation to the GCCF, but says: "My claim got denied on December 4, with about 100,000 other people."

The GCCF, which also covers cleanup and remediation costs, has received more than 468,000 claims and has paid about $2.7 billion to approximately 170,000 claimants (about one-third of those who have submitted claims) in the last four months.

Most of the claims that have been paid are temporary emergency payments. "You've paid 30 percent of the claims," Gulf Shores City councilman Jason Dyken told Feinberg at a recent meeting in Gulf Shores, Ala. "Seventy percent of the claims have not been paid. Where I went to school that's an 'F.'"

The amount paid out averages nearly $16,000 per claimant. But according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 2009 poverty threshold for a family of three was $18,310. With mounting problems from an escalating health crisis and decimated fishing and tourist industries, many consider this an inadequate amount of compensation for their loss of livelihood.

Feinberg has recently been on a tour of the Gulf Coast, holding public forums where he has often been faced with throngs of enraged residents and fishermen.

While Feinberg admits that mistakes have been made in processing claims, he has also said that many claims lack sufficient documentation to warrant payment. "I'm trying to do the right thing," Feinberg has said. "This is an unprecedented job. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of claims. But we're getting through them, and the money is going out."

During his recent visit to the Gulf, Feinberg said: "I will bend over backwards to pay claims." But large numbers of Gulf residents and fishermen beg to differ.

"Last week, I spoke up at the Town Hall meeting in Bay St. Louis, and Feinberg told me to give him my number and information and he would personally take care of it," Toler says. "Here it is a week later and I've not heard from him. You can't get answers from nobody. Nobody. Now, I'm 15 days past due on my rent. It don't seem right to me."

Like Chauncey, Toler is angered by seeing residents who are not directly involved in the seafood industry being awarded compensation checks, while those who are have their claims denied. "It's very frustrating," he says. "They say on the news they are going to help the fishermen and the people who deserve it while we aren't getting the help, but the people at Burger King and other stores are getting paid."

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FEINBERG'S CLAIMS operation is now offering three options to claimants:

-- Final settlements for all present and future damages that require the claimant to agree not to seek future compensation or sue anyone involved in last year's oil spill.

-- Smaller interim claims that do not require a lawsuit waiver.

-- Quick payments of $5,000 for individuals or $25,000 for businesses that require a lawsuit waiver but, unlike final or interim payments, do not call for financial documentation. Only those approved last year for emergency claims can take a quick payment.

Attorney Brian Donovan, with the Donovan Law Group in Tampa, Florida, believes Feinberg is simply doing what he is being paid by BP to do. "He's doing his job," Donovan says. "Feinberg is a defense attorney representing BP. To think otherwise is being foolish. As a defense attorney, he's doing a great job for BP. But they are saying 'go with us, or sue us.'"

Donovan has written:

In lieu of ensuring that BP oil spill victims are made whole, the primary goal of GCCF and Feinberg is the limitation of BP's liability via the systematic postponement, reduction and denial of claims against BP. Victims of the BP oil spill must understand that "Administrator" Feinberg is merely a defense attorney zealously advocating on behalf of his client BP.

SEE THE WHOLE ARTICLE HERE:
http://socialistworker.org/2011/01/27/gulf-residents-denied-help

Columnist: Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist and author. In 2003, he went to Iraq to report on what no corporate news source would--the real human toll of war and occupation. His books include The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq. In addition to his Web site, Dahr Jamail's Mideast Dispatches, his journalism has appeared in Le Monde Diplomatique, the Nation, Al-Jazeera and the Guardian.

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