Florida Governor Says BP Oil Spill Claims Taking Too Long

The $20 billion BP oil spill compensation fund continues to receive criticism. Now, the governor of Florida is complaining that people in his state are not being compensated.

BP agreed over the summer to fund the $20 billion compensation account. In addition to submitting claims for emergency payments for six month of losses, people and businesses impacted economically by the spill can also apply for final payment of long term damages. While claimants don’t have to surrender their right to sue BP and other responsible parties if they accept emergency payments, they will have to give up that right to collect final damages.

Ken Feinberg, the Washington D.C. lawyer tapped by the White House to administer the fund, took charge of the claims process last month. At the time, he promised the claims process would be faster than it had been when BP was handling claims.

According to the Miami-Herald, the vast majority of Florida claims remain unresolved. Of the 17,105 emergency claims submitted by the state’s residents and businesses so far, 5,134 have been settled by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. None of the state’s 1,360 “final” claims have been resolved. Floridians have so far received less than $40 million.

Yesterday, Gov. Charlie Crist criticized the claims process.

“I think it would be more than appropriate for us (the governor and Cabinet) to co-sign a letter encouraging increased urgency,” Crist said. “It’s becoming increasingly difficult for (some businesses) to be able to hang on. Twenty billion is no small sum of change, but it’s no good unless it’s utilized.”

Feinberg had said previously that claims from business not in the immediate proximity and without clear documentation that they lost money will not be paid. That’s been difficult for many Florida businesses, because the entire tourism industry in the state took a huge hit this summer because of perceptions about the spill, even though many of the state’s beaches remained oil free.

Yesterday, speaking before the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Feinberg did indicate he might be willing to be a little more flexible.

“I was skeptical of the eligibility of lodging and restaurants far from the spill. I still am skeptical,” Feinberg said. “But I must say, that having spent a good deal of time chatting … I’m trying to help. I’m walking a tight rope.”

But he also cautioned he was making “no promises” and pointed out that if proximity to the spill was not given relevance, the claims center would “be inundated with claims from 50 states.”

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