Sheldon Voices Concerns on BP Spill Claims Process

By: Kathleen Haughney, The News Service of Florida
By: Kathleen Haughney, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, November 23, 2010 --

Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon on Tuesday unveiled a bevy of concerns sent to the overseer of the $20 billion relief effort as the deadline approached for coastal residents to file emergency claims against BP for damage caused by the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

In a seven-page letter to BP claims administrator Ken Feinberg dated Nov. 22, Sheldon listed 13 specific problems he had with the claims process including lagging action on business claims, poor transparency of the claims process, the lack of an appeals system and the option of structured payments to reduce tax consequences.

Sheldon referred to the issues as “continuing concerns” of the state’s Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force, which is dealing with the economic impact the BP Deepwater Horizon spill has had on the state. The group is looking forward to discussing them with Feinberg as his earliest convenience.

“One of the complaints the task force heard was that there has been delay in action on business claims,” Sheldon, a member of the task force, wrote. “Many Florida businesses have reported that their employees have received emergency compensation, but their business claims are not being resolved. It is critical that these business claims be compensated quickly and completely.”

Tuesday was the final day to file an emergency claim with BP without giving up the right to sue the company later if things don't work out. Feinberg imposed the deadline to prompt potential claimants to file their paperwork as he tries to divvy up proceeds of the $20 billion relief fund set up by the company to pay damages brought caused by the spill.

After Tuesday, claimants will be asked to give more assurances that they won't sue the company down the road after taking relief payments from the company. Feinberg told state officials during his last visit to Tallahassee that claimants would still be allowed to seek periodic payments without giving up all rights to go to court later, but the burden of proof becomes more stringent.
A spokeswoman for Feinberg did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Feinberg attended a meeting of the task force in October and told members of the 28-member task force that tens of thousands of claims have been received by the Gulf Coast Compensation Facility requesting damage payments without a stitch of documentation to back up the request. The lack of proof, he said, is slowing down the process of verifying the claims and then delivering payment to residents and businesses in the Gulf Coast region.

"I've got thousands of claims, thousands, not hundreds, thousands of claims submitted to me that have absolutely no documentation. None," Feinberg said at the October meeting.

The task force has not met since the October meeting with Feinberg and has not yet scheduled a future meeting.

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