Bills Mount; So Do Spill Claimants' Anxiety
SCOTT SIMON, host:
In the Gulf of Mexico, the damaged well continues spewing thousands of barrels of oil, and residents who've applied for financial assistance from BP are running short of patience. Some say they've filed claims with the company and haven't seen anything. Others say that payouts aren't even large enough to cover their expenses.
BP argues that no claims have been denied but by its own numbers, fewer than half of the requests submitted have resulted in payments so far. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.
TAMARA KEITH: A man in a camouflaged visor walks out of the BP claims office in a strip mall in Gretna, Louisiana. He's angry and needs a smoke. He sucks down the cigarette and goes back in. A few minutes later, another man, Hanh Vo, walks out. He's holding a folder and says he came in to ask for more money.
Mr. HANH VO (Shrimper): Five thousand a month is not enough.
KEITH: Five thousand a month is what BP has been giving boat captains as an interim payment until their claims can be fully processed. Vo is a shrimper. He says he got a check in May, but when he came back asking about June, he was told he would have to wait until July. But he says his bills are due now.
Mr. VO: So I have not enough money to pay the bank and - it's very long. Some of the others, when I come here I ask them - but they say, you're going to have to wait.
KEITH: He has a $2,500-a-month boat payment, insurance bills, and an SBA loan he took out after Hurricane Katrina. The $5,000 is basically wiped out with business expenses, leaving little to support his family.
Shawn Assavedo quickly moves palettes of oysters in burlap sacks from one truck to another, using a forklift. It's a brief flurry of activity for Assavedo, whose seafood-distribution business has been decimated by the spill. He runs a dock in Hopedale, Louisiana.
Mr. SHAWN ASSAVEDO (Seafood Distributor): We have anywhere from 40 to 46 oyster boats that unload, you know, each day.
KEITH: And how many are unloading now?
Mr. ACEVEDO: One.
KEITH: Assavedo says he filed a claim with BP three or four weeks ago, but he hasn't gotten a check yet.
Mr. ASSAVEDO: I'm not sure if we're getting anything. But as far as what I'm hearing, we're getting - should get $5,000, or something like that, each month. And the bills at this place - is in between 11,000 and $11,500 a month. So - do the math.
KEITH: The math isn't pretty. A spokesman for BP says the company intends to make people like Assavedo whole, but admits the system isn't fully worked out for medium and large businesses. The spokesman says getting it right is an immediate priority. Assavedo says he can't wait much longer.
He runs the business with his wife, and I asked him if they sit around the dinner table at night, talking about which bills they pay first. His answer is a shock.
Mr. ASSAVEDO: If it was at my kitchen table, it would be all right. But yesterday it was in a hospital, so...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ASSAVEDO: Stress is what they said, believe it or not.
KEITH: Are you serious?
Mr. ASSAVEDO: I'm dead serious. I had a racing heartbeat and stuff like that. So - but I'm OK.
KEITH: His distant cousin, Nathan Assavedo, works at the dock. But with no boats coming in, there's no work. He got one check from BP last month for $2,500 and is still waiting for his June check. He's looking for work in town, but he isn't happy about it.
Mr. NATHAN ASSAVEDO(Dock Worker): I really I really like this because this is what I did all my life. I was born and raised on the water out here, you know?
KEITH: The Obama administration has a new point person overseeing the BP claims process. The goal is to make it more transparent, and get payments out to people more quickly and consistently.
Those who've seen their livelihoods cut off by the oil spill question whether it will get fixed in time.
Tamara Keith, NPR News, New Orleans.
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