By Veronica Del Bianco
At a recent free oil-spill claims information session, it was evident that the BP claims process is as messy as the oil that caused it, and that Gulf Coast residents need help navigating the paperwork.
“You’ve got to tell your story. Leave nothing to the imagination,” explained Carmen Sunda, director of the Louisiana Small Business Development Center (LSBDC) Greater New Orleans Region, which hosted the event. “Start with assembling documentation. Then, when the documentation package is ready, fill out the application.”
Every application is different, because every story is different. The effects of the oil spill are as unique as the individuals who attended the informative event — hairdresser, oysterman, caterer, construction company owner, food service worker, landlord, discount bookstore owner, shrimper, bed-and-breakfast owner.
The Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) is the official way for individuals and businesses to file claims for costs and damages incurred as a result of the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20, 2010. Administered by Kenneth R. Feinberg, the GCCF has stopped processing emergency claims and is now offering final and quick settlement options with all emergency and interim payments.
“We are not recommending that anyone file a final claim at this point,” said Sunda. “We are also not recommending quick settlement.” Employees of affected businesses, though, may want to consider quick settlement as an option after they evaluate it carefully, say representatives of the LSBDC.
What they do recommend is filling out a claims form for an interim payment, if an individual falls into one of these camps: those who have filed an emergency claim, received payment and still need on-going compensation; those who have never filed a claim but have been impacted; and those who have filed an emergency claim and were denied.
“If you focus on what other people got, you’re going to go bezerk,” Sandy Nguyen warned the commercial fishermen in attendance.
“If the emergency money wasn’t enough, then state that in the interim claim,” continued Nguyen, executive director for Coastal Communities Consulting and an LSBDC counselor who helped lead the session.
“Also, explain what you have done to mitigate your own losses. Did you lay people off? Did you get another job? There’s a place in the application for you to say what you did to limit your losses. If you worked the Vessels of Opportunity, tell them. If you took another job, tell them. If you went back out fishing when the waters reopened, tell them.”
Another point LSBDC emphasizes is that a well-written narrative is crucial to the success of a claims application. Monthly income statements going back to 2008 are also best because they can show patterns illustrating the cause and effect of lost income.
Final advice: Applicants need to protect themselves from being lost in the paper shuffle. Keep copies of the documentation package and mail it certified, with a return receipt requested.