WASHINGTON – Louisiana House members pressed the Gulf Coast Claims Facility administrator Thursday about how the fund is treating applicants,especially shrimpers.
“It just seems like the process is taking way,way too long,” Rep. Jeff Landry,R-La.,said at a House Natural Resources committee hearing.
Landry said he’s consistently heard from constituents that they’re told paperwork for fund applications has been lost and needs to be resent. The GCCF is handling claims for losses related to last year’s Gulf oil spill.
Kenneth Feinberg,GCCF administrator,said when control of the fund transferred from BP to his oversight last summer,the fund did lose some paperwork. But Feinberg said he doesn’t believe that it is a persistent problem.
“The idea that we’re losing paper,” Feinberg said,“I just don’t buy that.”
Feinberg said it was conceivable that with the 60 million pieces of paper he’s received since taking over the operation that some may have been lost. He told Landry to give him the names and claim numbers of his constituents,“and I will personally get back to you with status reports on those claims.”
But Dean Blanchard,a 52-year-old seafood processing plant owner,said he’s heard that rhetoric before.
“I know 100 people that heard him say that,” he said. “ ‘Put your name down on this list’ – same thing he just lied to the congressman about. I don’t know one person that’s been taken care of. Not one.”
Feinberg said the Department of Justice will be performing an independent audit of the claims process,but an auditor has yet to be chosen.
Blanchard,of Grand Isle,La.,said he’s concerned about both the physical and economic health of Louisiana residents and fishermen and that they aren’t getting the help they need.
Feinberg said $1 billion of the $20 billion fund has been paid so far to those in the seafood industry.
Rep. Steve Scalise,R-La.,said he also knows shrimp processors who have not heard anything back about their claims.
“We have processed and paid plenty,” Feinberg said in reference to various components of the shrimp industry.
Landry brought up another concern with shrimper claims,saying that many recreational shrimpers had been paid more than commercial shrimpers.
“The concern I have,is that once y’all opened that fund,there was a blue light special on white boots in Louisiana,” he said,“and that allowed the people to claim that they were shrimpers that were not shrimpers.”
He said the fund is not considering Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries records,which certifies shrimpers,in determining compensation.
“I continue to hear stories of people who really need this money,people who have been in the shrimping industry for generation after generation that are not getting help,but the fly-by-night people are getting a check,” Landry said.
Feinberg said he’s met with shrimpers in south Louisiana and said there will be changes in response to their concerns.
“I agree with you,” he said. “I believe if there’s one area where the Gulf Coast Claims Facility needs to be more receptive and generous,it is with the commercial shrimping industry in Louisiana.”
Feinberg said within the next few weeks the GCCF hopes to announce new rules to deal with Louisiana shrimpers.
Reach reporter Hope Rurik at [email protected] or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.