While Gov. Rick Scott and members of Florida’s cabinet head out on a fishing trip, we’re celebrating tomorrow’s anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster by delving into data from the oil spill claims process.
It’s easy to get lost in the numbers when sizing up Kenneth Feinberg’s progress as an administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. The fund has paid out $3.8 billion to 177,132 claimants since he took over from BP in August. Last summer, Florida wasn’t doing as well in the process as other states, which often accumulated thicker globs of oil on their beaches but suffered smaller financial losses.
Feinberg was supposed to set that right, and to some extent he has.
Of that $3.8 billion, some $1.5 billion has gone to Florida, more than any other state. Compare that to how the state fared under BP: Floridians filed more claims than their counterparts in other states but were less likely to receive payments.
But most of that money — nearly $1 billion for Florida, and $2.5 billion overall — was paid during the emergency claims process, which technically ended back in December (a few hundred of those claims are still being worked out). Since then, the final and interim payments have been slow, especially for business claims, which tend to be larger and more complicated.
Almost all of the money paid out of the fund since the emergency process ended has come in the form of “quick payments,” which allow claimants who have already received an emergency payment to take a $5,000 check ($25,000 for businesses) within two weeks, without supplying any additional documentation, in exchange for waiving their right to sue BP.
Take away the “quick payments,” and less than 5 percent of Florida’s business claims and 15 percent of its overall claims filed since the end of the emergency process have been paid.
Feinberg has said the quick payments are likely to appeal to those who feel they cannot document additional losses, but during a conference call yesterday, he faced a volley of questions about whether delays were causing claimants to grow desperate, prompting them to accept the relatively small quick payments and give up their right to sue. He said that may true in some anecdotal cases, but he has seen little evidence that it’s a systemic problem.
So what’s the holdup?
According to statistics from the facility, while most non-quick pay claims have yet to be paid, the facility has completed reviews for most of them. Of the 65,000 or so non-quick pay claimants, only about 25,000 are still under review.
Another 15,000 have been asked for additional documentation, while nearly 10,000 have already been paid and more than 5,000 have been denied. Most of the rest are mulling final claims offers, but have yet to decide whether to take the cash and waive their right to sue or have accepted the offers but not received a check.
Feinberg has pledged to resolve all the interim and final payments within 90 days (though some say that’s too long), so expect a wave of payments and denials in the coming weeks.