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Claims Czar's Slow Pace Frustrates Gulf Businesses

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Claims Czar's Slow Pace Frustrates Gulf Businesses

Claims Czar's Slow Pace Frustrates Gulf Businesses

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: After being shuffled through nine BP claims adjusters, and having to resubmit tax records three times, Rhonda Drummond was ready for the switch.

RHONDA DRUMMOND: We waited patiently until Feinberg took over. I was at the office at 8:00.

ELLIOTT: Unidentified Woman: Hi.

DRUMMOND: Unidentified Woman: Five.

DRUMMOND: Five? Let me get you set up.

ELLIOTT: The restaurant lost $45,000 this summer, and only got $15,000 of it back from BP. That's why she was so anxious for Feinberg to take over.

DRUMMOND: And we filed for $120,000 to get us through till January. And they insulted my family by sending us $4,500. They gave my servers more than they gave our business.

ELLIOTT: Now the new claims process does not allow appeals for the emergency payment, so she's not sure what to do next.

DRUMMOND: We can file the final claim, give up our right to sue. Or we can retain an attorney. Or we can file bankruptcy and walk away from it all. As a mother, how do you make that decision?

ELLIOTT: Feinberg had promised a quick turnaround - if you had even minimal documentation, individuals would get a six-month emergency payment within 48 hours of a claim, businesses in a week. It sounded like a lifeline for those on the brink.

SHEILA NEWMAN: We were just putting all our hope into Feinberg, because we have moved home. We've closed our office. We've had to cut our salaries. We're just barely making it.

ELLIOTT: About a month ago they described for NPR their fight with BP. Now the fight is with Feinberg's Gulf Coast claims facility.

NEWMAN: We're going broke. We have no money. And so it - the seven days meant a lot to us. So we, you know, every day it's like please let that check come in, but you check it and we're still under review.

ELLIOTT: Kenneth Feinberg will be in Alabama, Florida and Louisiana next week to explain the delays.

KENNETH FEINBERG: Frustration is understandable. The frustration is to be acknowledged. We are processing about a thousand claims a day. The problems are enormous.

ELLIOTT: Still, Feinberg admits he promised more than he's been able to deliver, given the complexity and sheer volume of claims.

FEINBERG: It's taken longer than I thought. And that criticism, the false expectations that have been raised, I think are justifiable.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

ELLIOTT: Diner owner Rhonda Drummond says she can't wait any longer for the process to work.

DRUMMOND: (Unintelligible) I just want what's rightfully due me. What I would have done, what my family would have made, if they hadn't messed it up. That's all I'm asking for.

ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Orange Beach, Alabama.

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