BP mobile claims center in Dulac, Louisiana. (Photo: BP)
One year after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill that depleted the Gulf Coast fishing grounds and the livelihood fishing families have relied on for generations, members of the predominately African-American Plaquemines Parish community are fighting denied claims and insufficient payouts.
“BP turned our whole life around,” says Gary Bartholomew. “I would be working 600 acres of oyster beds. My father was a fisherman and made a pretty good living at it. I was, too, until BP came with the oil spill.”
After receiving initial emergency payments of approximately $5,000 to $7,000, Bartholomew says fishermen then signed up for a six-month payment program, but they haven’t seen a check since October or November of last year. And when they go to the claims office, they’re told, “We’re working on it.”
So, they wait and wait, but some people have grown so desperate that they’ve accepted final compensation checks in amounts far less than they deserve and as low as $5,000.
“I have some friends who took the $5,000 and now they’re sorry they did because that’s about gone now,” he said. “I’m trying to hang in there as long as I can but in another couple of months I will be in bad shape, myself.”
In an interview on MSNBCs Morning Joe, Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of BP’s $20 billion Deepwater Horizon Disaster victim compensation fund, said that many of the more than 800,000 claims filed have been denied because they lacked proof of evidence of loss or because they were clearly fraudulent.
“We’ve got some claims from dentists, chiropractors, veterinarians. But I want to emphasize most of the claims in the Gulf are for real people. I don't want to make a joke of this,” Feinberg said. “Fishermen, shrimpers, oyster harvesters, hotels right on the beach. That's where the $4 billion has gone. You know, you take a lot of heat on this, but I’m determined to process these claims and get money out the door to eligible claimants.”
But according to some fishermen suffering legitimate losses, the fund has made payments to workers in strip joints on Bourbon Street, tattoo parlors and WalMart, while they are perilously close to what Telley Madina, executive director of the Louisiana Oystermen Association, calls a financial danger zone and soon will be unable to afford things like food and medicine. When the oil forced the fishermen out of the water, a major food source as well as their livelihoods was lost.
“That danger zone leads to social and mental anxiety due to not knowing how you’re going to provide for your family,” Madina said. “People are trying to stretch out interim claims payments, but how can you live on pennies? They’re clinging to the hope that Feinberg is going to keep his word.