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House Speaker orders investigation into oil spill claims system

Thursday, January 13th, 2011 by Dara Kam

House Speaker Dean Cannon is asking his economic development committee to investigate reports of problems with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility payments to BP oil spill victims.

BP claims czar Ken Feinberg has paid out almost $1.2 billion to nearly 70,000 claimants.

But more than twice that many claims – about 157,000 – remain in the system.

“Recently, numerous breakdowns and inconsistencies within the claims process have been brought to my attention,” Cannon, R-Orlando, wrote to House Economic Affairs Committee Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill.

Sink to host BP claims workshop in Panama City

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s office is holding a workshop in Panama City tomorrow for Floridians wanting help getting their BP claims paid.

Sink’s staff will be at the Marina Civic Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will meet with individuals and business owners trying to get speedier payments – or any at all – from BP claims czar Ken Feinberg, in charge of doling out the $20 billion Gulf Coast Claims Facility fund.

Sink, the Democrat candidate for governor, has been critical of Feinberg’s claims process and took credit yesterday after the Boston lawyer decided to expand eligibility for claims payments to businesses located far away from where oil washed up on the beach.

She’s also launched a website where Floridians can share their horror tales about navigating the claims process.

Former DEP chief Mike Sole heads to FPL

Monday, October 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole has gone to work for Juno Beach-based Florida Power & Light.

The marine biologist is the vice president of the power company’s government affairs department, according to an internal FPL memo.

Sole, appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist shortly after he took office four years ago, stepped down as DEP chief this summer in the midst of overseeing the state’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

BP claims czar backs off proximity to oil spill in paying claims

Monday, October 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

How close a business is to where oil actually washed up on the beach won’t be a factor in determining whether it is eligible to be paid for lost revenues, BP claims czar Ken Feinberg has decided.

Feinberg revamped the claims process after being pressured by a bipartisan coalition of Florida officials, including Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.

Today, Kenneth Feinberg, Administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, announced that geographic proximity to the BP oil spill would not prevent a legitimate individual or business claim from being processed.

“I have heard from elected officials in Florida, including Governor Crist, Attorney General McCollum, CFO Sink and others, about their concerns regarding Floridians’ proximity to the spill and how, regardless of distance, there has been economic impact beyond the areas closest to the spill. After listening to these concerns, I have concluded that a geographic test to determine eligibility regarding economic harm due to the oil spill is unwarranted,” Feinberg said in the statement.

Claimants must “rove damages resulting from the spill itself and not other causes, but “physical proximity from the spill will not, in and of itself, bar the processing of legitimate claims,” he said.

His reversal on proximity is a victory for Florida hotel and restaurant owners, who hired a legal dream team to fight Feinberg and help businesses get their claims paid.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and state elected officials objected to Feinberg’s inclusion of proximity as a factor in paying claims. They said tourists stayed away from the Sunshine State because they had the perception that oil had contaminated areas of Florida even where it hadn’t.

Hotel and restaurant association to hold claims workshop in Panhandle Monday

Friday, October 1st, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association will hold the first of 19 workshops on Monday in Pensacola for business owners struggling to get their claims paid by BP claims czar Ken Feinberg.

The association hired a legal dream team to negotiate with Feinberg, who balked at paying for damages to businesses not directly impacted by oil-stained beaches caused by the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

The lawyers will be at the Hilton Pensacola Gulf Front hotel from 10 a.m. to noon C.T. and will give an overview of the claims process and help assist business owners to figure out whether they are eligible for payments and, if so, how much. They’ll also provide individual assistance.

The FRLA recently won a concession – of sorts – from Feinberg. He said he’d take into consideration tourists’ perception that Florida’s beaches were tar-infested, even when they were not, and the overall damage to Florida’s tourism brand caused by the oil spill.

CFO Sink opens BP claims complaint website

Thursday, September 30th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has setup a web site to let disgruntled Floridians vent about their problems getting paid by BP claims czar Ken Feinberg.

Her new website – www.myfloridacfo.com/FloridaClaimsHelp/ – invites visitors to share their stories “if you’ve filed your claim and provided the documentation requested to the best of your ability but have not received a response or are getting the runaround.”

Feinberg, who took over the Gulf Coast Claims Facility on Aug. 23, this week promised larger, faster claims even as he tries to manage a backlog of more than 10,000 claims, many of them in Florida.

Sink and the Florida Cabinet are demanding that Feinberg speed up the payments and want them to show up at their next Cabinet meeting next month.

AG candidate Gelber joins chorus pushing for broader BP claims payments

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Add state Sen. Dan Gelber, the Democrat candidate for attorney general, to the list of pols criticizing BP claims czar Ken Feinberg for his handling of payments to Floridians harmed by the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Gelber, a former federal prosecutor from Miami Beach, sent a letter to Feinberg asking him to include the costs of preparing claims to payments to individuals and businesses. Feinberg said he won’t pay for legal or accounting fees associated with the filings.

“Citizens of our state are rightfully frustrated. They see promises from BP actors in commercials suggesting the company is prepared to do the right thing. Yet on the ground, they see obfuscation, and a process that is filled with more chutes than ladders,” Gelber wrote.

Gelber also joined Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the Democrat candidate for governor; Gov. Charlie Crist, the independent candidate for U.S. Senate; and Attorney General Bill McCollum, the Republican who lost the primary bid for governor, in demanding that Feinberg pay damages to those located where oil never reached the shore. Feinberg’s consideration of proximity to the oil spill in paying claims has been a major issue of contention since he took over BP’s botched claims process on Aug. 23.

Sink and the Florida Cabinet slammed Feinberg yesterday and Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon, a member of a statewide task force looking into the economic damages caused by the disaster, gave Feinberg just a few weeks to speed up payments to businesses on the brink of bankruptcy in Northwest Florida.

Sink, Florida Cabinet fed up with BP claims czar Feinberg

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink used an update this morning on Florida’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to blast BP claims czar Ken Feinberg for paying too little, too late to Panhandle businesses and causing at least one company to close its doors.

“I’m kind of of the mind set that enough is enough,” Sink, the Democrat candidate for governor, said at this morning’s Cabinet meeting. “I don’t know about you all but I’m sick and tired of this. These desperate people through no fault of their own having to shut their business down? That’s horrendous!”

Sink said the owners of Harmony Beach Vacations in Destin sent her an e-mail yesterday telling her they were going out of business because their claim for lost revenues has languished under both BP and Feinberg, who took over the oil giant’s maligned claims process for individuals and businesses on Aug. 23.

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BP claims czar ‘making amends,’ won’t hire more adjusters

Friday, September 17th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Ken Feinberg, in charge of doling out billions of dollars in claims to victims of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, said he won’t hire more adjusters to speed up the process but acknowledged his system is not without problems.

“It is true that we’re not moving as fast as we should,” Feinberg said.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Gov. Charlie Crist this week asked Feinberg to appear before them at the next Cabinet meeting to explain why so many Panhandle business owners haven’t seen a dime since Feinberg took over BP’s maligned claims system on Aug. 23.

“We can do better. The criticism of the governor and Sink justifiable. But we’re making amends. And we’re improving the system,” Feinberg said.

Crist and Sink also demanded that he immediately hire more adjusters to help speed up the process.

“I don’t need to hire more people. It’s not a resource issue. It’s an internal ability of us to process claims as fast as we can. Simply throwing more people at the problem won’t solve it,” Feinberg said.

(more…)

Crist and Sink send bold letter to BP claims czar, ask for Cabinet appearance

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink want BP claims czar Ken Feinberg to appear before the Florida Cabinet and explain why his revamped claims process is in such a mess.

In a letter sent today, Sink, the Democratic nominee for governor, and Crist, the independent candidate in the three-way race for U.S. Senate, also asked Feinberg to immediately hire more people and spend more resources processing claims.

“Floridians continue to tell us that they cannot get their claims paid in a timely fashion,” Sink and Crist wrote. “Many Floridians who have been impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill need immediate relief just to make their next mortgage payment or make their next payroll.”

Feinberg met today with Attorney General Bill McCollum, who said afterward that he was “cautiously optimistic” that Feinberg would tweak his claims process to make it more Florida-friendly for folks trying to get tourism-related losses paid.

Claimants have complained that Feinberg, in charge of doling out much of the $20 billion Gulf Coast Claims Facility fund set up by BP, has reneged on his earlier promise to pay individuals 48 within hours and businesses within a week of receiving their claim.

At yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, Sink read an e-mail Pensacola business owner Jeff Elbert, also head of the Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce, who said that he doesn’t know of a single beach business that’s been paid since Feinberg took over BP’s botched claims process on Aug. 23.

McCollum ‘cautiously optimistic’ after meeting with BP claims czar

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 by Dara Kam

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.

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Sink (and Crist) bold move over languishing oil spill claims: Write a letter!

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010 by Dara Kam

After hearing that not a single business on Pensacola Beach has received a dime from BP claims czar Ken Feinberg in nearly a month, Chief Financial Officer proposed sending (another) letter to Feinberg urging him to get on it.

“This is just not right,” Sink, the Democrat running for governor against Republican Rick Scott, said before the Cabinet heard an update on the oil spill at this morning’s Cabinet meeting.

Sink suggested ordering Feinberg to show up at the next Cabinet meeting to explain why he hasn’t followed through on his earlier pledge to quickly process claims to help out Panhandle residents whose businesses have floundered since the April 20th Deepwater Horizon disaster. Or, she said, the Cabinet could write a letter to Feinberg urging him to take action. Sink has made repeated requests in writing to Feinberg, BP officials and others demanding they speed up payments to floundering businesses in the Panhandle threatening to shut down because of the spill.

Gov. Charlie Crist agreed to sign on to Sink’s letter to try to get some help to Floridians, especially those in the Panhandle.

“It’s become increasingly difficult for them to be able to hang on,” Crist, the independent candidate in the three-way race for U.S. Senate said.

Attorney General Bill McCollum, whose office has been out front dealing with Feinberg and BP throughout response to the disaster, is supposed to meet with Feinberg this week. McCollum was in Pensacola attending the federal hearing on his lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s administration over health care reforms.

Oil panel boiling mad over BP claims czar’s broken promises

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 by Dara Kam

BP oil spill claims czar Ken Feinberg, hired by the oil giant and President Barack Obama to hand out $20 billion to individuals and businesses impacted by the massive oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, overpromised and underdelivered, state officials and others said today.

Feinberg took over BP’s maligned claims process on Aug. 23, pledging he would “bend over backwards” to help claimants get emergency six-month payments to help them cope with the financial woes many have encountered since the April 20 disaster.

Feinberg last appeared before Gov. Charlie Crist’s Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force last month and left even skeptical members of the panel, including Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon, with high hopes that the Boston lawyer would fix BP’s botched claims system.

But Feinberg’s new process, called the “Gulf Coast Claims Facility,” is leaving a lot to be desired, many of the panelists discovered Tuesday.

“I never thought I’d say this but part of me would like BP back,” said Sheldon, who was one of the oil company’s harshest critics before Feinberg took over. “What he articulated to all of us was something totally different than what’s in this protocol.”

The panel is demanding that Feinberg appear before them again and plans to confront him with a transcript of what he said he would do, like allow a priest to verify that information in a claim was accurate, and what they hear is taking place.
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UPDATE: It’s official: Oil spill special session off the table

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Senate President Jeff Atwater called to clarify his position on the decision not to hold a special session on oil spill-related issues. Here’s what he had to say:

“I haven’t changed my mind on anything. I don’t know how I could have tried any harder,” Atwater said about the House’s decision that a special session is unnecessary this year. He said a special session is both “timely and necessary.”

There’s no need for a special session to address the fall-out from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig blast that pumped millions of gallons of hydrocarbons into the Gulf of Mexico, House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater have decided.

Despite earlier promises that lawmakers would convene as early as September to try to give a helping hand to fishermen and others in the Panhandle whose finances have crumbled in the aftermath of the April 20 disaster, the pair are convinced those issues can wait until the regular session next year in March.

“It would appear that while there are some issues where legislative action may be appropriate, there are no issues that require immediate formal legislative action. Additionally, there are several areas where it is clear that we do not yet possess the information necessary to make informed decisions. Moreover, many of these issues require solutions that would benefit from closer scrutiny during a regular legislative session,” Cretul, R-Ocala, wrote to House members today.

Atwater, who is running statewide for chief financial officer, apparently agreed although he had previously pushed the House to come back early.

Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said he asked his select committee “to continue developing proposals, gathering data, and working with incoming leadership in preparation for the next session” in a memo to the his members today.

Sink joins McCollum in demand for revamp of BP claims czar process

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink wants oil disaster claims czar Ken Feinberg to revamp his process for paying individuals and business owners who say BP’s massive oil disaster caused them to lose revenues or suffer other damages.

Sink, who traveled frequently to the Panhandle to meet with Feinberg and business owners who’s claims languished in BP’s hands, and fellow Cabinet member Attorney General Bill McCollum both accuse Feinberg of creating a process that’s less friendly to oil spill victims than federal law.

Feinberg has “taken an extremely restrictive view as to who is eligible for recovery,” Sink, a Democrat who is the presumptive nominee for governor, wrote to Feinberg today, the kick-off of his Gulf Coast Claims Facility that will handle the claims.

“In my opinion, the GCCF rules must be rewritten in favor of those who were harmed by this catastrophe, as opposed to those who caused it,” Sink wrote.

(more…)

Florida Realtors get $16 million for oil spill losses

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Florida Realtors will divvy up $16 million to cover lost sales in the aftermath of the April 20th Deepwater Horizon rig blast and ensuing massive oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida’s sharing in about $60 million claims czar Ken Feinberg set aside for real estate agents and brokers although they would not be eligible for claims under state or federal law.

He’s already given property owners the bad news that they’ll likely get nada from the $20 billion fund set up by BP to cover losses caused by the spill.

Each of the Gulf Coast states’ real estate associations will dole out the funds to realtors.

Florida Realtors, the state association representing realtors, hired Indiana-based claims adjustment firm NCA to handle the claims and administer the funds, according to press release issued by the association.

Feinberg, who took over BP’s botched claims system at 12:01 a.m this morning, has said that realtors were the loudest group making a pitch for how the oil disaster made an already sluggish real estate market even worse.

Feinberg’s in charge of administering the $20 billion fund BP set up to pay for losses and injuries caused by the disaster. BP will put the money into the Gulf Coast Claims Facility account over four years.

Feinberg said the first checks to individuals filing claims will go out by Wednesday and within a week for businesses.

Oil spill claims czar refutes McCollum criticism that new claims system worse than BP’s for victims

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Ken Feinberg, who’s’ taking over BP’s troubled claims system at midnight, rejects Attorney General Bill McCollum’s contention that the new claims czar’s expedited emergency payment system is worse than BP’s.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” Feinberg said today on a conference call with reporters when asked about McCollum’s critique.

Feinberg said he expects a flood of applications when the Gulf Coast Claims Facility goes online at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

The lawyer, hired by BP and President Barack Obama, received high marks for his handling of the compensation fund for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks but is under fire for vague guidelines about how he will dole out the $20 billion BP has pledged for Gulf Coast individuals and businesses who’ve lost money and jobs since the April 20th Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Feinberg has yet to reveal how much money he’s being paid to take over the claims system and won’t release internal documents detailing how BP’s adjusters have been retrained to handle claims.

Some Panhandle business owners waited for months without getting any payment from the oil giant for their losses and those who did receive checks had no idea how the amount was derived or what time period it covered.

Feinberg is using “proximity,” or how close claimants are in relation to where oil washed up on the beach, as one factor in deciding who gets paid. That’s more onerous than federal law, McCollum complained in a letter on Friday.

Feinberg says his system gives claimants a free review of how they would fare in court.

“It’s truly a free preview. Nobody is obligated to come into this program and accept the award unless they voluntarily reach a conclusion that it’s in their interest,” Feinberg said.

Atwater blasts BP claims czar remarks as ‘dismissive’ of needy Floridians

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate President Jeff Atwater called BP claims czar Ken Feinberg’s observation that things appear to be back to normal in the Panhandle premature and “dismissive of Floridians.”

Atwater, who’s running for chief financial officer against Democrat Loranne Ausley, issued a press release in response to a story today in The Palm Beach Post in which Feinberg said that Northwest Florida fishermen may not be eligible for the full six months of emergency payments other businesses may be entitled to when he takes over BP’s maligned claims system at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

“Despite incomplete data about the threats facing the people of our state, Ken Feinberg was quoted today saying that ‘I’m watching on TV. The beaches look fabulous.’ These remarks came as he seemed dismissive of Floridians who are seeking financial relief. Understanding the serious problems facing Floridians along the Gulf takes more than watching television, and our beaches are not the only place in Florida facing the threat,” Atwater said in a statement issued by his campaign.

Feinberg, appointed by BP and President Barack Obama to handle claims for individuals and businesses harmed by the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil blast, made his remarks at a meeting in Pensacola on Tuesday, the same day several academic institutions refuted federal officials’ contention that most of the oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico has disappeared.

“Our state has a unique and precious marine ecosystem, and scientists are still reporting that this ecosystem is in trouble. Just today, some of the best and brightest researchers at the University of South Florida said between 70 and 79 percent of all the oil that was spilled is under the surface and still causing ecological damage,” Atwater wrote. “For BP or the federal government to cut and run now would only create another catastrophe.”

House Deepwater Horizon coordinator says no need for special session

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Lawmakers appear to have abandoned their earlier pledge to hold a special session on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in September and instead could possibly wait until the regular session in March.

Rep. Gary Aubuchon, the coordinator of the House’s five Deepwater Horizon oil spill work groups, has until Aug. 31 to give House Speaker Larry Cretul a report on possible legislation to help revive the Florida Panhandle economy or provide tax breaks to residents there. Aubuchon said Tuesday those suggestions probably won’t go to Cretul until sometime during the first week of September.

And although some Panhandle business owners have already shuttered operations and others are on the brink of doing the same because of plummeting revenues during their peak summer tourist season that coincided with the April 20 oil disaster, Aubuchon said early reports from his leaders show there’s no need to rush.

“We are continuing to ask the questions, attend the meetings, gather the data and looking for a productive role the state could play. Whether we begin to play that role in September, or November, or during the regular session is a question yet to be answered,” Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, said after meeting with Ken Feinberg, the claims czar who will take over BP’s problematic claims system on Monday at 12:01 a.m.

“One of the questions I’m asking each work group coordinator to answer is does anything you are working on now or anticipate working on necessitate the need for a special session? The early feedback I’m getting is no it does not,” Aubuchon said. “But the final conclusion has not been reached. And of course that is a decision that will be made by our presiding officers in the House and Senate.”

Even the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, whose members would probably benefit the most, is ok with holding off on a special session until after November.

Sen. Don Gaetz wants to pass a bill that would allow the FRLA to access up to $5 million of a trust fund comprised of fees paid by restaurant and hotel owners. There’s about $9 million in the trust fund, which is supposed to be earmarked for promotions.

FRLA President Carol Dover said she met with GOP legislative leaders last week.
“Coming into September with the group that are going to be gone or waiting until the organizational session with the group that are going to be bound by what they have passed could be a better way,” Dover said.

Lawmakers met in an aborted special session late in June after being ordered bv Gov. Charlie Crist to take up a constitutional amendment banning offshore drilling. They left in less than two hours without passing anything.

But before the special session even began, Senate President Jeff Atwater asked Cretul, R-Ocala, to consider a special session late in August or in September.

Atwater reiterated that hope yesterday.

The North Palm Beach Republican who is running statewide for chief financial officer believes lawmakers should meet within a month “to provide Floridians the assistance and relief that they need in the wake of this crisis,” Emhof said.

Tourism pitch, first family visit may harm Panhandle fishermen’s claims

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Promotions touting tar-free Northwest Florida beaches and clear Gulf waters may hurt Panhandle fishermen’s ability to get the emergency six-month payments the new oil disaster claims czar is promising will be easy to get come Monday.

Ken Feinberg will take over BP’s troubled claims system at 12:01 a.m. Monday. Under Feinberg’s new process, individuals or businesses filing claims will get paid for six months of lost revenues instead of BP’s current month-to-month compensation.

Feinberg told fishermen today they may not be eligible for six full months of emergency payments because the oil well is capped, water closures for fishing have been lifted and tourism officials are promoting the cleanliness of Florida waters and beaches.

Even the first family’s weekend trip to the region – aimed at luring visitors to the region – may not have been a good thing for the fishermen.

“Now I see the president’s coming down. I see they opened up the shrimp grounds yesterday. The fishing grounds are open. I’m reading in the newspaper people are returning to the Gulf,” Feinberg, in Pensacola for the second time in a week, told an audience of about 100 at the Pensacola Civic Center.

Feinberg said it appeared to him that things were getting better in the Panhandle despite a persistent refrain from mom-and-pop hoteliers, restaurant owners and fishermen, whose plight was recently worsened when BP shut down the “vessels of opportunity” program that paid them to aid recovery efforts.

“What do you men you can’t fish for six months? Your compatriots are fishing now. I’m reading it in the newspaper. So the new wrinkle…that I didn’t confront two weeks ago or two months ago is what is the impact of the spill as every day I read in the newspaper things are improving.Thank goodness,” Feinberg said.
“I hear what the president says. I’m watching on TV. The beaches look fabulous.”

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