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McCollum ‘cautiously optimistic’ after meeting with BP claims czar

by Dara Kam | September 15th, 2010

Attorney General Bill McCollum said he is “cautiously optimistic” after an hour-and-a-half long meeting with BP claims czar Ken Feinberg in the Capitol this morning.

Claimants throughout the Gulf Coast have complained that little has changed since Feinberg, appointed by the White House and BP to dole out $20 billion the oil giant is putting into the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, took over BP’s much-maligned claims process more than three weeks ago.

McCollum has repeatedly criticized Feinberg’s system, still in development even after he has written more than $40 million in checks to Floridians for losses caused by BP’s April 20th Deepwater Horizon oil rig blast and ensuing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Feinberg’s paid an average of $7,195 in emergency payments to nearly 5,600 Floridians since taking over on Aug. 23.

One of the most contentious issues facing Florida thus far has been Feinberg’s emphasis on “proximity” to the oil spill in determining eligibility for claims and questions about whether perceptions about Florida’s beaches being oily (even when they were not) contributed to a drop in tourism that affected hotels, restaurants and state tax collections.

Feinberg is “inclined to and likely to” take the impact on tourism into consideration when approving claims, McCollum told reporters this morning.

“We lost tourism big. There is no doubt about that,” McCollum said.

Feinberg expressed “vagueness in response” to the tourism issue but “he’s going to find a way to be able to honor tourism claims,” McCollum said.

Feinberg yesterday scored points with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association after meeting with them in Orlando. The association had “lawyered up” and was prepared to sue a reluctant Feinberg who had balked over giving emergency payments to hotel and restaurant owners other than those directly on oil-contaminated beaches. Feinberg convinced the FRLA and its members to file claims with him rather than going directly to court, the association announced yesterday.

In his meeting with McCollum today, Feinberg said he is considering appointing a claims czar for each state as a contact point for officials like McCollum who have complaints or concerns about the process, McCollum said.

McCollum also said Feinberg is “leaning towards” changing his current emergency payment system to be more in line with federal law which allows claimants to receive interim payments for up to three years after a disaster. Currently, Feinberg is giving claimants three months to apply for emergency payments.

McCollum’s office has tried to help Feinberg craft a protocol more in line with federal law than what the Boston attorney appears to be operating under. But McCollum’s at a considerable disadvantage, as are the other Gulf Coast state attorneys general: they have no authority to influence Feinberg other than suing him and/or BP.

Feinberg is holding a series of town hall meetings in the Gulf Coast states and is in Orange Beach, Ala., today.

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4 Responses to “McCollum ‘cautiously optimistic’ after meeting with BP claims czar”

  1. josue Says:

    no disrepect to mr. feinberg intended. But as a claimant, i have a few concerns.

    1. it’s ironic the “Gulf Claims facility” is in ohio, nowhere near the toxic air of the Gulf.”

    2. the claims application automatically exempts mental injury (huh?) who defined, determined this?

    3. too many important decisions in the hands of one man, very highly respected, probably a good heart, but he is not a judge.

    be fair, or prepare for an explosion of lawsuits to come. only the lawyers will get monetary justice if that happens!!!!

  2. Unreal Says:

    So the ‘claims czar’ is going to appoint some little ‘czaritos’ to run interference from upset AG’s and state officials. Nice move. So now he doesn’t have to ignore them face to face, he can do it through a middle man and not have to deal with them at all. I would call that smidgeon dismissive, but our AG and state leaders think hes being proactive. Send him a letter of thanks when the czarito contacts you would you Billy?

  3. Larry Says:

    So many people hurting. I do not live near the coast but have worked in the gulf of Mexico for 10 years. I have a claim in and had one with BP since July. Now it is going into 4 weeks and nothing has been done at all. I only seen afew that say they have been paid. Mine has been the same from Aug. 23. Under review. The claims office knows nothing and said they are told nothing either. What a shame to destroy so many people that have worked so hard in their life.

  4. Tim aka "Cap'n Fud" Says:

    My seafood restaurants in Destin and Ft. Walton Beach have seen a reduction in sales this summer of over two million dollars due to the decline in tourist traffic. As everyone in the tourism business along the Gulf Coast knows, the profits earned during the summer months cover the red ink of the fall and winter. I applied for an SBA Disaster Assistance loan in early July and after spending thousands of dollars to assemble their required documentation was told that we were ineligible because my restaurants generate too much revenue to be considered a “small business” by the SBA. I submitted a claim with BP on July 15th and never got any payments. I then applied for a claim through the GCCF on August 23rd and STILL have not gotten a payment. The banks aren’t lending, so I have about sixty days of available cash before I run out. I am still optimistic that my claims will be paid, but I’m not at all optimistic about how much will be paid. If we don’t get at least half of our claim, we’ll not be able to stay open. If I have to close, I’ll have over 200 employees who will be unemployed. And the REALLY scary thing is that several other restaurant operators I know in this area are in a similar situation. There are going to be a lot of unemployed people if Feinberg’s program doesn’t get its act together soon!

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