BP claims chief: Get the word out on claims

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Many Florida businesses entitled to relief following the BP oil spill have yet to file claims, the head of the BP-backed claims paying agency told a Senate panel on Tuesday, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida. 

Patrick Juneau, claims administrator for the BP spill, said the claims-paying facility has made settlement offers of more than $1.7 billion since Juneau took over the settlement process from his predecessor, Ken Feinberg, last summer. Prior to that, Feinberg had distributed about $404 million in individual and business claims.

Of the $1.7 billion promised to claimants across the five-state area, Florida individuals and businesses have been offered settlement payments of $332 million. Of the 106,000 settlement offers filed since June, 34,000 have come from Florida.

But Juneau urged members of the Senate Agriculture Committee to support efforts to get the word out to businesses around the state that are still eligible for benefits under the court-ordered settlement. 

“There are a lot of legitimate claims in your state that have not been filed yet,” Juneau said “I know that, but it is not for me to file them. That is the education part of this program that we need to get across.”

A continuing headache is verification. Claimants must have records to show their losses, a requirement that has stymied some potential claimants whose bookkeeping efforts were minimal at best in what often is a cash-based economy. 

In response, the claims-payment agency has tried to be as flexible as possible, including allowing sworn affidavits in some instances to validate losses. But sometimes, even that can’t be found.

“We cannot pay a claim that is not backed up by some type of paperwork,” Juneau told members during his testimony. 

The claims paying agency has six locations across Florida to handle claims including a call center in Sarasota. In 2012, Juneau said the program employed 495 accountants, claims-payment specialists and others, paying out $17 million in salaries and benefits.

In contrast to Feinberg, a Brockton, Mass. native, Juneau is a Louisiana lawyer and LSU graduate from Lafayette who said his roots to the gulf run deep. 

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, and chairman of the Senate committee, said the change was welcome. Feinberg had come under intense fire during his tenure, as many Panhandle claimants and state lawmakers said he made promises that often were not delivered. 

“I’m impressed by Mr. Juneau’s attitude and spirit of cooperation and willingness to go the extra mile,” Montford said. “You heard him say he’s stretched the envelope as far as he can. That is good news for these hardworking people.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.