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Frustration Over Gulf Oil Spill Payments

Workers pull aboard boom being used to help block the flow of the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon in Cat Bay on June 28, 2010 near Grand Isle, Louisiana.
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Workers pull aboard boom being used to help block the flow of the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon in Cat Bay on June 28, 2010 near Grand Isle, Louisiana.

One year after the tragic BPoil spill, the cleanup isn't done and neither is the haggling over BP's $20 billion dollar fund to compensate individuals and businesses over lost income.

To date, there have been an overwhelming 850,000 claims. About 300,000 have been paid out, totalling just under $4 billion.

Most of them are emergency payments. The interim and final payments are a long way from being processed.

It's not all about fund administrator Ken Feinberg's work. Thousands of people have made it extremely difficult.

According to Feinberg, 100,000 had no documentation at all, and one actually asked for the whole $20 billion. Feinberg says they are doing their best to rightfully compensate people with legitimate claims.

It's the wrangling over that word "legitimate" that has created all the tension.

"We may have made a mistake with 850,000 claims, and if we did, we will fix it," said Feinberg, who originally expected about 100,000 claims. "If the documentation is there, however minimal, it may be that as long as we can make a guess-timate that it's what you are entitled to, we will pay it."

Many local fisherman and shrimpers are frustrated.

"We've found Fienberg's process to be very inconsistent," said Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association. "Since December 15, he's been reluctant to compensate people properly."

Others think they are being manipulated.

"What Mr. Feinberg is trying to do is make someone like me, who is desperate, to settle for $5,000 or $25,000 and not be able to sue in the future," said Glenn Poche, who filed a claim for more than $150,000 and received $13,000.

Feinberg is adamant that if that claim wasn't properly handled, he will try and make it right.

"If the Gulf Coast Fund has made a mistake, and the inconsistent treatment is unjustified, we will fix that," Feinberg said.

One issue that has not been given enough attention: Taxes.

Many fishing and shrimping businesses deal on a cash-only basis. Tax returns often don't reflect the full scope of income, Because of that, some people can't justify the actual losses they are incurring.

If that is the case, Feinberg cannot help.

"If they don't have a tax return and don't have another way, then there is nothing I can do about it," he said. "In all too many case, people say, 'we have a cash business, we don't keep records, we do things on a handshake. That, I cannot accept."

He added, "We have paid thousands of fisherman. Thousands have been paid, and they are satisfied, Overall, we have to deal with the remaining claims where there is still criticism."

To that end, Feinberg, does have some supporters in Louisiana.

Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, has been a central voice for the plight of those economically hurt by the tragic oil spill.

"When I've taken individual cases to him, he's been honest with me about it," he said of Feinberg. "I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt."

We'll just have to check in next year and see how it all plays out.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @bshactman

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