GULF COAST — The administrator of the $20-billion compensation fund for victims of the Gulf oil spill said yesterday he might waive the current requirement that wages earned from helping out in the cleanup be subtracted from people’s spill claims.
Doing so would be a key concession following strong criticism from residents about the claims process.
Fund czar Kenneth Feinberg told hundreds of people who packed a convention center in Houma, La., that he is reconsidering that requirement. He said that no decision has been made, but that he understands the loud concerns raised by people who are still hurting.
“I’m taking it under advisement,” Feinberg said. “The last time I said, no way, I’m deducting it. Now, it’s open for discussion.”
The April 20 rig explosion killed 11 workers and led to 206 million gallons of oil spewing from BP PLC’s undersea well into the Gulf of Mexico.
Feinberg also said he would consider giving people in certain situations a supplemental payment after their emergency payment. Currently, people are getting an emergency payment and then, down the road, a lump-sum final payment. The final payment requires recipients agree not to sue BP.
“I will come back again and again to face the music, hear the criticisms, listen to the concerns,” Feinberg said.
One after another, shrimpers, boat workers and other victims came up to a microphone and yelled their demands at Feinberg. Some cursed. Others shouted insults.
Their concerns included the slow payment process, the fact that some people in similar situations are receiving vastly different payments and the bureaucracy they have to go through to get their money.
Feinberg said the fund has paid out $150 million since he took over processing claims three weeks ago. Prior to that, BP was in charge of paying out claims, and it paid nearly $400 million.
Feinberg said his team hoped to finish processing remaining emergency payments in the next 30 days.
“I am doing the best I can,” Feinberg said, as the crowd grew louder. “And if the best is not good enough, I am sorry.”
Later, when Feinberg told the speakers that there were many people who still wanted to ask questions and he only had 10 minutes left to address them, one woman, in tears, shouted: “We have the rest of our lives.”
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