Oil-Spill Victims: Where's Justice?

A year after a drilling-rig explosion sent millions of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, thousands who lost their livelihoods still await payment of their claims.

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Strange's letter came on the heels of the release of statistics by Feinberg's office in early March announcing that it had processed 57 percent of the 256,000 individual and business final claims, including 99,905 quick payments that require recipients to relinquish their rights to pursue further litigation as a result of the spill.

"I am of the firm belief that Feinberg and the BP claims process is preying on the desperate economic situation of these families with their backs against the wall, and is dangling grossly inadequate 'final' payments in hopes that people will give up their claims for quick cash. This is why these releases that permanently force people to give up rights should be thrown out by the court," Strange said in a prepared statement.

Feinberg responded back in a fiery 21-page letter that his office forwarded to The Root. In the letter dated March 23, he explained that claims were not casually dismissed. In fact, of the 153,076 claims processed since Nov. 23, only 4,013 were denied, and each was accompanied by an explanation of rejection, Feinberg wrote.

"I find it impossible to accept your conclusion that GCCF payments to the citizens of Alabama 'do not amount to much [sic],' " Feinberg wrote. "First, in less than seven months, the GCCF has paid 28,766 Alabama claimants some $688,645,943, not an insignificant amount. Yet, you conclude in your letter that individual payments, on average, are 'suspect and troublesome [sic].' I disagree, and am left to wonder on what basis you draw this serious and damaging conclusion. The GCCF evaluates each claim on its merits and pays or offers each claimant the full amount of their substantiated damages."

The kerfuffle between Strange and Feinberg comes amid ongoing criticism of the GCCF by public officials. In early March, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also rebuked the agency for slow and parsimonious payments of claims, saying that the facility should work more quickly. He added that while it directly affects the people of Gulf Coast, the slow payment of claims has a national impact, too, because it hurts the economy overall.

Meanwhile, Turner said that he plans to keep pushing Feinberg. His congregation of about 300 has fallen off by 50 members since the incident because people are struggling to make ends meet.

"They come to us for help with their basic needs," he said. "And we have to help them because they have nowhere else to go. But who is going to help us?"

Lynette Holloway is a Chicago-based writer. She is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.

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