HOPEDALE, La. — In the fallout from the BP oil disaster, they're almost invisible: deck hands and other day laborers who get paid in cash, don't receive W-2 forms, may not file tax returns and have little or no way of proving they are losing income because of the spill.
"We run into them on a daily basis. They're stuck in limbo," said Tuan Nguyen, deputy director of the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corp. in eastern New Orleans.
Nguyen said he has encountered hundreds of workers, mostly deck hands, who lack the documentation BP needs from claimants trying to get a piece of the $20 billion of the oil giant's aid fund.
Stuart Smith, an attorney handling oil-spill lawsuits, said applying for aid can be intimidating, and some cash workers fear that they'll face penalties or prosecution for not paying taxes if they come forward.
Ken Feinberg, appointed by the White House and BP to administer the aid fund, didn't hold out a lot of hope for people who take cash to avoid taxes. Feinberg administered a similar fund for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"I must say under the 9/11 fund, which was all public money, we were not sympathetic to paying claims based on cash-only, no tax returns," he said.
Still, he added, President Barack Obama wants money to get to the people who are entitled to it.
"Maybe there's some compromise we can reach," he said.
Fight against the spill's spread at critical points
WASHINGTON — The battle to contain the spill is approaching two critical junctures in coming days that could affect how the catastrophe ends.
The first will happen for sure: connecting a third ship to the jury-rigged containment system through which BP has been capturing about 24,000 barrels of oil per day since early June. That may take place as soon as this weekend, and it would raise the amount of oil BP can collect from the well to as much as 53,000 barrels per day. That's 88 percent of the 60,000 barrels per day the government says is the current best guess of the maximum gushing from the well.
The second may not happen: replacing the "top hat" component of that containment system with a new cap that would fit more snugly but whose installation would require the well be uncapped for as long as 10 days, allowing tens of thousands of additional barrels of crude to leak out.
The new containment cap was the subject of Cabinet-level meetings in Washington last week, including one with the president, and the decision remains uncertain.
Adding the third ship, the Helix Producer I, has been planned for weeks and was supposed to have happened by June 30. High seas generated by Hurricane Alex and then by an unnamed storm system near Mexico's Yucatan peninsula so far have thwarted the final few days of work, however.
Hundreds of sea birds found harmed by oil
MOBILE, Ala. — The director of a wildlife rescue operation says more than 400 birds harmed by oil have been found on the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
Ken Rice, the wildlife branch director for the operation in the three states, said Wednesday that more than 190 with oil had been found dead over the past two months. Almost 220 oiled birds were found alive for possible cleaning.
Rice says the most affected bird was the Northern Gannet, which spends much of its life over open seas. Other affected birds include brown pelicans, terns, loons and shore birds.
Rice said a "substantial number" of birds harmed or killed by the oil spill are not found.
Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers and New York Times contributed.