Area businesses hurt by the BP oil spill are finally getting paid. This is good news — and about time. Hotels and mom-and-pop shops throughout Tampa Bay and the state have waited too long for the federally sanctioned claims process to compensate spill victims. But the reparations are far from complete. Congress and Florida's incoming state leadership need to follow the example of their predecessors and keep up the pressure.
As of Thursday, 73,000 Florida residents and businesses reliant on tourism and fishing had received $1 billion in combined restitution. While the administration fund, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, cannot break out payments by county, businesses and tourism officials say dozens of bay area companies have collected, from the large TradeWinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach to a sweets shop on the boardwalk at John's Pass in Madeira Beach.
These payments will be a lifeline to workers and businesses whose livelihoods were hit hard by the BP spill in April. Though no oil washed ashore in the bay area, the devastation along the Panhandle caused cancellations at hotels and economic losses throughout a state dependent on tourism. Business owners and individuals who managed through the summer and fall on their savings and credit can now start digging out of the hole.
The claims fund is working better but still does not have its act together. The payments so far are virtually all for short-term losses, which are relatively easy to figure. The fund will have a harder job assessing the pending claims from tens of thousands of Floridians who are seeking long-term monetary damages. The state's congressional delegation, Gov.-elect Rick Scott, Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer-elect Jeff Atwater will need to keep up the pressure. The jobs picture is bleak enough without allowing the claims fund to drag its feet on Florida's recovery.