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People on the Gulf Coast who've lost money because of the BP oil spill have put a lot of hope in Kenneth Feinberg. He's the new claims czar appointed by the federal government to help with making people whole. He's been on the job nearly three weeks and already there are complaints. His new system is just as frustrating as the old one run by BP.
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.
Ms. RHONDA DRUMMOND (Owner, Duck's Diner): We waited patiently until Feinberg took over. I was at the office at 8:00.
ELLIOTT: She owns Duck's Diner in the resort town of Orange Beach, Alabama. Her husband and one son cook, another son waits tables. And when she's not fixing the squash and mashed potatoes for the lunch special, Rhonda Drummond is up front greeting customers, the few she still has.
Ms. DRUMMOND; Hey, ya'll.
Unidentified Woman: Hi.
Ms. DRUMMOND: How many we got today?
Unidentified Woman: Five.
Ms. 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.
Ms. 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: By comparison, the $4,500 check makes BP look good for giving her 15,000, even though it was only a fraction of the diner's losses.
Now the new claims process does not allow appeals for the emergency payment, so she's not sure what to do next.
Ms. 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: Businesses all along the Gulf Coast are struggling with similar choices after a summer season that was a bust because of the BP oil spill.
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.
Ms. SHEILA NEWMAN (Owner, Orange Beach Wedding): 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: That's Sheila Newman. She and her twin sister own Orange Beach Weddings.
About a month ago they described for NPR their fight with BP. Now the fight is with Feinberg's Gulf Coast claims facility.
Ms. 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.
Mr. KENNETH FEINBERG (BP Claims Fund Administrator): Frustration is understandable. The frustration is to be acknowledged. We are processing about a thousand claims a day. The problems are enormous.
ELLIOTT: Problems like duplicate claims, or no proof of lost income.
Still, Feinberg admits he promised more than he's been able to deliver, given the complexity and sheer volume of claims.
Mr. 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.
Ms. 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: You can't treat people like this, she says. We live in America.
Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Orange Beach, Alabama.
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