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.
An additional 30,414 have been determined to lack proper documentation, such as bank statements, W2s or W9s. Those who submitted them have the opportunity to refile their claims. Additionally, the agency said, any claimant is invited to appeal a GCCF decision to the U.S. Coast Guard, which would review the case through its National Pollution Funds Center. So far 467 claimants have appealed, and in each instance the decision was upheld by the Coast Guard.
"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.