Members of the Louisiana Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Oversight of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) expressed concerns that citizens’ legitimate claims for money due from the 2010 BP Oil spill — which caused widespread damage to the marine habitats and fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico— are not being addressed and processed quickly enough.
In a committee meeting Thursday at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge, GCCF representatives reported that in the past year over $5 billion has been distributed by the agency to 210,239 claimants in the U.S. and foreign countries. According to the GCCF updated report, $1,562,503,450 has been paid out to 117,795 claimants in Louisiana.
Matthew Block, legal spokesperson for GCCF, said the agency has processed virtually all of the current inventory of claims but that does not mean that all of the claims have been paid.
Legislators at the meeting were concerned about resolving issues that have beset residents in getting their claims processed quickly.
Speaking on behalf of claimants who have not yet been paid, Rep. Joe Harrison, R-La. said, “We are trying to alleviate the problems people are facing. It’s incumbent on elected officials to make sure they’re being treated fairly and honestly and being able to expedite their claims without delay.”
Referring to criteria established for claims, Sen. A. G. Crowe, R-La., said attention should be paid to claimants by GCCF who have unique circumstances.
“One size does not fit all,” he said, referring to criteria for claims in other areas of the Gulf that do not necessarily fit those in Louisiana. “We’re asking you to be more open to people and rule changes so people get what they deserve.”
Sen. J. P. Morrell, D-La., stressed there should be a better method to differentiate between commercial fishermen who have held certified fishing licenses for years and “fake” commercial fishermen, who obtained fishing licenses soon after the BP Oil spill and applied for BP money.
According to Block, GCCF has taken steps to make the process more “user-friendly.” Claimants in the Gulf Region have been provided free legal services to assist in the claims process; 22 local accounting firms are assisting claimants in preparing GCCF claim forms. GCCF also has modified its correspondence with claimants to provide more information about eligibility determinations, damage calculations and the status of claims.
GCCF currently has 20 offices throughout the Gulf region to help claimants. Eight of the offices are in Louisiana, yet local offices in Grand Isle and Venice are open just one day a week. Block said the GCCF website, www.GulfCoastClaimsFacility.com provides updated and detailed information for claimants.
Among those at the meeting were representatives of various seafood industry and fishing industries. Speaking on behalf of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, Clint Guidry, said. “All we’re asking is for our people to be made whole, and we’re just not seeing it.”
Committee members agreed to meet next in Louisiana’s lower Gulf Coast region with local residents who have documentation and with GCFF representatives. No specific date was set for the meeting.