In article after article on the spill and the GCCF, come the words, “slipping through the cracks,” in reference to the inevitability that some who have rightful claim to the British Petroleum compensation fund will be denied payment for any number of reasons…they couldn’t prove their physical ailments came as a result of exposure to the spill, they didn’t have the proper documentation, they didn’t get the help needed in completing their claim, they missed a deadline or maybe they even accepted a quick payment, far too soon, only to find new costs, new expenditures, new problems previously unaccounted for…
In any case, they’ve slipped.
Back in March, Feinberg, administrator of the fund, admitted as much when he said: “Here is the problem that I continually have to address … roughly 80% of the claims that we now have in the queue lack proof…That is a huge number…” Feinberg did not rule out settling claims in the future, but he added: “The claims that were denied had woeful, inadequate or no documentation to speak of.”
What he didn’t say was that all of these claims so summarily dismissed, well over 100,000 of them, were undeserving of compensation, just that they lacked proof.
So how many of them are legitimate claims made by people so harmed from the spill, but for whatever reason were unable to complete the forms to Feinberg’s satisfaction and were then denied? How many of the people who were made offers by the GCCF didn’t have the proper documentation to receive all they deserved and settled for pennies on the dollar?
How could we possibly have an answer to any of these questions?
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated recently, after visiting Alabama to review progress along the Gulf Coast, “I am a little worried about the pace and the transparency” of the claims process, Holder said. “We have to ensure that it keeps pace with the restoration of this most beautiful part of the country.”
And so we come back to transparency, yet again…something Feinberg promises and doesn’t deliver, again….so the Gulf Coast is left to take his word for it, again.
Holder continued, “My voice has not been as loud as maybe it should have been…There are issues here, legitimate issues, that have to be discussed. Things have to be done better.”
Yes they do. Start by finally opening the books and making sure mistakes haven’t been made, that claimants haven’t needlessly been left behind.
Then, ask Ken Feinberg some key questions:
1. What is more important, a rigid inflexibility on what can be accepted as proof of damage in the claims process, or claimants being paid too little or left completely uncompensated?
2. Understanding your many statements about the huge undertaking this has been, with well over 400,000 claimants…how it has been hard, difficult, almost impossible to complete, shouldn’t you have hired more professionals to assist claimants and in turn, assist you?
3. By not hiring as many people as necessary which may have made the process less manageable, didn’t you run the risk of making mistakes that have left people unpaid and if so, why did you feel it appropriate to run that risk?
4. If you truly did come to the Gulf to make things right for people, to be fair…why would it be okay for anyone deserving of compensation to go unpaid? If only a matter of timelines, research, investigation or expenditures, shouldn’t it be that the GCCF’s job is finished only when justice is done for everybody in the Gulf?
5. And shouldn’t the aggrieved party, the citizens and businesses of the Gulf Coast be the ones to decide when justice has been done, not you or the GCCF and certainly not British Petroleum?
Feinberg is running this show. He set the methodology for final and interim claims. He is in charge of determining what constitutes appropriate proof. He has taken credit for the no-sue clause attached to quick payments and final claims. He is making the rules, determining who and how many are hired, when claims offices close, when his job is done. So it would only stand to reason that Ken can make changes, just as he is doing with compensation to oyster fishers…so in that light…Ken? How many citizens of the Gulf Coast should get left behind by this process? How many should lose a house, a car, the togetherness of their family and community as a result of this spill? How many Americans should be left to fall through the cracks, for any reason?
Tough questions all but I do have a suggestion, even though it will entail me doing something I typically don’t like to do, but feel is apt given the situation: I’ll answer that question with another.
So, how many people should be left to fall through the cracks by the GCCF?
Well, how many employees of British Petroleum have gone to jail for the events that occurred on the Deepwater Horizon?
Feinberg should be transparent and Feinberg should think outside of the box on these claims, not because he is compelled to do so by the Justice department or even Gulf Coast residents, but because it is the right thing to do. Feinberg should stop being a lawyer and start trying to understand the people and ways of the Gulf Coast so that nobody gets left behind, and he should take as long as necessary to ensure this happens.
Anything less is negligent to his duties and irresponsible to all required magnanimity.
Not one left behind in this mess: a mistake on GCCF paper could very well be someone’s livelihood and/or way of life.
Have a nice day.