KENNER, La. -- It was standing room only at Kenner’s Pontchartrain Center. About 500 people showed up to hear from the government-appointed attorney who will now administer BP's claim process.
“It is not part of BP. It is not part of the government. It is an independent program,” said Kenneth Feinberg, oil spill claims administrator.
Feinberg will dole out BP’s $20 billion victim’s compensation fund. The oil spill sidelined fishermen, closed processing plants, and took a huge bite out of the summer tourism season along the Gulf Coast.
According to those hurt by the spill, the claims process under BP was slow and didn’t come close to repaying them for their losses. Folks at the town hall meeting asked tough questions, pressing Feinberg to tell them how the claims process will be better under his leadership.
“We want to know whether there is a methodology being used across jurisdictional boundaries and specific business codes to ensure equal and fair compensation to all who have incurred losses and not just those who have better records,” said one speaker at the meeting.
Feinberg announced people seeking compensation don’t have to reapply, but they must fill out a new claims form. He said in return with proper documentation, they may qualify for a check for six months of losses.
“No more excessive delays. No more runarounds," Feinberg said. "I’m going to do my best."
Prior to the town hall meeting Feinberg and Sen. Mary Landrieu met privately with fishermen, seafood dealers and restaurant owners affected by the BP spills. They wanted to get their fears on the table upfront.
“We’ve got some people that have $100,000 problem and get a $10,000 check, or $300,000 problem and get a $10,000 check,” said Harlon Pearce, a Louisiana seafood dealer. “I just think our industry is very different. It’s just not black and white.”
“I don’t know what being made whole is, but when you’re paying more bills than what they’re giving you money for, if I don’t have $300,000 ahead of myself I’m completely out of business,” said Dean Blanchard, a Louisiana seafood dealer.
Feinberg promised victims they will know within seven days whether their claim is viable or not, and he’s hoping to process emergency claims with 24 hours.