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Two years after Deepwater Horizon disaster, Justice Department audit nets extra $64 million in payments for oil blast victims

Thursday, April 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

An independent audit of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility resulted in an extra $64 million for more than 7,400 victims whose claims had originally been denied by former administrator Ken Feinberg.

More than half of the money will be going to Floridians whose claims were erroneously rejected, according to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. As a result of the audit, the Justice Department approved $37.7 million for 4,450 Florida individuals and businesses whom Feinberg turned down.

The U.S. Justice Department released the preliminary audit findings Thursday, one day before the second anniversary of the massive explosion that killed 11 oil rig workers and spewed an estimated 206 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It took more than 85 days for engineers to finally stanch the oil flow from BP’s Macondo well that devastated coastal wetlands, stained Florida Panhandle beaches, killed wildlife and shut down commercial fishing in the Gulf for extended periods of time.

The initial findings of the audit were released The audit, released by the U.S. Justice Department today, found that overall Feinberg did a fine job distributing more than $6.2 billion – less than half of the $20 billion BP set aside to pay for damages caused by the spill – to more than 220,000 claimants over 18 months.

“While our independent evaluation did uncover instances in which errors were made in the claims evaluation process, in general, the GCCF appeared to have consistently applied its protocols and methodologies in processing claims,” BDO Consulting auditors wrote.

The audit found that Feinberg’s GCCF denied about 60 percent of the claims. Initially, claims were denied because the types of businesses trying to get paid were not eligible for payment or because claimants failed to provide required financial documents. During the second part of the claims process, the majority of claims turned down were rejected because they could not document that their financial losses were caused by the massive Deepwater Horizon oil blast.

Feinberg made changes to the claims process in response to problems identified by his workers, likely adding to some of the inconsistencies in payments, the auditors found.

But they praised him, given the “complexity and unprecedented nature” of Feinberg’s task.

“The GCCF was designed to respond, and did respond, with urgency to the economic difficulties of those most likely affected by the Spill. However, because of the complexity and unprecedented nature of the task undertaken by the GCCF, it was inevitable that some claimants and stakeholders would have concerns about its operations. While hundreds of thousands of individual and business claimants received payment without litigation over the two years immediately following the Spill, many others have sought an alternative to the GCCF. We hope
that all those who have been genuinely affected by the Spill, ultimately receive an appropriate resolution to their claims,” the auditors wrote.

Claimants encountered a variety of problems, including being denied even though the companies they worked for had been approved. Others complained that about inconsistency. In some instance, employees who worked the same shift at the same restaurant received different treatment.

Bondi, one of the Gulf Coast state attorneys general who pushed for the audit last year, specifically wanted the audit to include an investigation into the discrepancies.

“I had always wanted an audit in order to bring transparency to the claims process, and thankfully Floridians will now receive the millions in relief that they deserve,” Bondi said in a statement.

Scott review of BP claims czar mixed

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Eight months after BP claims czar Ken Feinberg took over the $20 billion victim claim fund, reviews are mixed as to how the brash Boston lawyer is handling the process.

Gov. Rick Scott, in Destin to pitch tourism in the region hammered by last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig blast that sparked the nation’s worst oil spill in history, said he met with Feinberg last week while in Washington.

“The positive is he’s opened up more claims offices here and more feet on the ground and more people here talking to them. The negative is there’s a lot of people that still haven’t been paid,” Scott said standing outside the Lucky Snapper restaurant in Destin.

Feinberg, who’s paid out $3.8 billion to businesses and individuals in the Gulf States since taking over the Gulf Coast Claims Facility in August. That includes $1.5 billion to Florida victims.

Feinberg’s processed about 70 percent of the more than 500,000 claims filed. But many of those claims have yet to be paid.

Scott said he and Attorney General Pam Bondi set March 31 goals for Feinberg’s processing of Florida claims.

But nearly a month later, Scott couldn’t say whether Feinberg met his benchmarks.

“He’s given us how he thinks he’s doing,” Scott said .

Scott said he and Bondi’s staff are reviewing Feinberg’s results “to see what improvements he needs to make to make sure that we get everyone paid.”

Scott said he believes Feinberg is open to suggestions.

“He doesn’t want pressure from either attorney general or me. So what we’ve got to do is keep telling him what our needs are and just make sure he does the right thing,” Scott said.

The governor refrained from giving Feinberg a grade yet but promised “I’ll be telling him exactly how I think he’s doing.”

Guv and guns, fish and food in Panhandle promo tour

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Scott shows off his catch of the day. Courtesy Bass 2 Billfish.

Gov. Rick Scott shopped, fished and supped on seafood during a two-day Panhandle swing to promote the region on the one-year anniversary of last year’s devastating Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Gov. Rick Scott and Ronnie Groom, owner of C and G Sporting Goods in Panama City

Scott stopped in C and G Sporting Goods in downtown Panama City to purchase a fishing license, peruse guns and get a hat for his collegial fishing tourney with fellow Cabinet members later in the day.

When told that Smith and Wesson has a new gun out called “The Governor,” Scott, surrounded by reporters and his ear-piece outfitted security detail, grinned.

“I’ve got FDLE,” said Scott, who already owns several guns. “I’ll be fine.”

The panel came to the Panhandle to advertise its beaches, fishing and emerald-green water.

“As everyone knows, we have pristine beaches. They are beautiful. We have great fishing, the best in the world, and it tastes great,” Scott said before climbing aboard a boat with “Bass 2 Billfish” host Peter Miller.

Scott will complete his cheerleading in Pensacola and Destin today.

BP pledges $30M in marketing money for Panhandle, state seeks more for lost tax revenue

Monday, April 11th, 2011 by Dara Kam

BP officials agreed to give $30 million over six months to seven counties in the Florida Panhandle hardest hit by last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Gov. Rick Scott announced the agreement with the oil giant this morning, calling it a “very small step on the road to recovery.”

Flanked by BP officials and Northwest Florida lawmakers and tourism officials at a press conference this morning, Scott praised BP for the money aimed at giving the region a boost after a dismal tourist season last year as Panhandle beaches and waters were despoiled by oil.

“This is a great day for Florida. I’m very comfortable that my discussion so far with BP is that they’re going to continue to do the right thing,” said Scott, who did away with the oil spill task force created by Gov. Charlie Crist.

The latest funds – which will be distributed over six months in $10 million increments starting in about two weeks – brings to $62 million the company has given to Florida for tourism marketing. BP also gave another $20 million for testing and marketing the state’s seafood industry.

“We recognize how important tourism is to the economy of Florida and especially North Florida,” said BP senior VP Luke Keller. “We’ve worked very hard with local officials there to make sure the beaches are being cleaned up…I can report the beaches are cleaned up and ready for the tourist season.”

Clean-up efforts continue in the Pensacola area, still impacted by tar mats and tar balls.

Scott’s staff said the state will seek money from BP to cover lost tax revenue resulting from the April 20 disaster that unleashed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico just at the onset of the Panhandle’s tourist season. Details about how much money the state wants were not available.

The state has until April 20 to file a federal lawsuit against BP. Louisiana officials have already filed their claim, and Florida U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, sent Scott a letter today urging him to follow suit.

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