Gulf Fund Administrator: Payments Coming Soon
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
BP announced today that the underwater oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico has stopped flowing, thanks to a new tightly fitted cap placed on the well. It's not a permanent fix. BP is hoping to plug the well for good in August. The government estimates that anywhere from 90 to 184 million gallons of oil have spilled since the Deepwater Horizon explosion in April.
Meantime, today, some Gulf Coast residents met with Kenneth Feinberg. He's overseeing the $20 billion claims process. In a series of town hall meetings, Feinberg told people whose lives have been on hold, that claims will be handled quickly and fairly. He also stressed that this is not a government operation.
NPR's Kathy Lohr was at the meeting in Houma, Louisiana, and joins us now.
And, Kathy, what was Kenneth Feinberg trying to accomplish today?
KATHY LOHR: He really did want to reassure people in Louisiana that he means business, that he knows they've been struggling for three months now and that he's determined to get the payment system moving here. He continued to say that he is independent, that he does not work for BP or the government.
So here's what he told the crowd in Houma.
Mr. KENNETH FEINBERG (Administrator, BP Compensation Fund): If it works, I get the credit. If it doesn't work, only I get the blame - nobody else. This is not about politics. This is about helping people in the Gulf. That's what this is about. I'm working for you, not for BP.
LOHR: Feinberg was really down-to-earth today. He was eagerly listening to dozens of questions from the audience. He wore a gray suit and a blue shirt, and he kind of seemed like he was a schoolteacher, as he was explaining the details of this $20 billion fund that he's overseeing.
He says his staff will take over BP's 35 existing offices very soon and may open a few more. He says the change will become effective the first week of August.
SIEGEL: And what did the people who attended the town hall meetings have to say to Mr. Feinberg?
LOHR: Well, some were business folks who talked about the delays in being paid. Many people, in fact, talked about the delays in being paid. Others are more concerned about the future of shrimping and crabbing, and their lives here along the Gulf. And some suggested they might never get back in business. But that was something that Feinberg said he couldn't really do anything about.
He did agree, however, that business claims have been processed the slowest, and so he said he promised to work on that. And he also stressed that people need to file claims in order to get paid. Some of the folks here said they had already filed, but many others were still waiting.
SIEGEL: Well, what, if anything, will change once Kenneth Feinberg actually takes over payments?
LOHR: He says that once people file claims and provide some documentation, that they will get an answer within 48 hours. So that's pretty quick compared to some of the long months that people have been waiting.
He also said he's going to expand payments, that the offices will now pay six months of advance emergency claims. Previously, BP has only been paying one month at a time. Instead, Feinberg says he wants to get these six-month payments moving. And he said that would be a lot better for people living here. There would be a lot more financial stability that way.
Feinberg also said he's going to look at longer term claims and examine those to see if they want to pay some of those, possibly even up to 18 months of people who have lost their income or their pay. But Feinberg says if people decide to accept those longer term payments, they would have to sign a waiver saying they won't sue BP.
SIEGEL: Is this it for Ken Feinberg's town meetings or are there more scheduled along the Gulf Coast?
LOHR: There are more scheduled. In fact, Kenneth Feinberg will show up in Mississippi tomorrow. And I think that he promised that he would be back as often as people wanted to see him.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Kathy Lohr. Thank you, Kathy.
LOHR: Thank you, Robert.
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