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BP claims czar defends payouts of just $3.8 billion from $20 billion fund

The official responsible for doling out cash to people and businesses hurt by the BP oil spill isn't worried his agency has paid out less than 20 percent of what the company set aside for claims.

Kenneth Feinberg bristled at a news conference Monday during questions about why his office has approved $3.8 billion from a $20 billion fund while rejecting thousands of claims.

"I'm not the only one drawing on that $20 billion," he said.

Federal, state and local governments also are expected to file claims for cleanup costs from the spill and lost tax revenue. Florida hasn't yet filed a claim, though BP has already awarded the state $82 million for seafood testing and tourism, including $30 million announced last week for the Panhandle.

Feinberg's Gulf Coast Claims Facility took over evaluating individual and business claims from BP in August and will continue the work though 2013. Feinberg had said earlier that all of those claims could be settled for $10 billion or less. He backed away from the statement Monday.

"I'm not prepared to say," Feinberg said. "We're here until 2013. It could be $3.8 billion in 2011, $3.8 billion in 2012 and $3.8 billion in 2013."

He is optimistic the $20 billion will be enough to pay off all claims but added that the oil giant will cover any additional costs, if necessary.

His agency has received claims from more than 504,000 individuals and business in nine months and paid 176,540 — nearly 35 percent.

That leaves plenty of unhappy folks.

Lenny Stamos, owner of Beach Cyclists in St. Pete Beach, said he sent in five years of sales tax returns to document his $34,000 loss for last summer. The agency turned down his emergency claim for insufficient documentation, he said. He's represented by a lawyer.

"My wife and I borrowed $30,000 on our credit cards to keep the business going," Stamos said.

A claims agent told him he didn't see any emergency if they had money to borrow, he said.

Stamos simmers every time he sees a BP advertisement on television and wonders why the money doesn't go to business owners like himself.

Keith Overton, chief operating officer of the TradeWinds Island Resorts in St. Pete Beach, said the agency was slow to respond initially and Feinberg didn't understand the hotel business.

"Once he got his arms around it, he's done what he said he'd do," Overton said.

The resort received a payment of $800,000 for lost business last summer, and the property's condo owners are awaiting a payment of nearly $486,000.

Contact Steve Huettel at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Where the money is going

Tampa Bay payments from the $20 billion fund.

CountyResidents & businesses paidAmount
Pinellas5,586$59 million
Hillsborough1,291$14.2 million
Pasco547$8.8 million
Hernando159$2.8 million

BP claims czar defends payouts of just $3.8 billion from $20 billion fund 04/18/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 6:12pm]
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