Feinberg and Landrieu hold town halls to explain new victims claims process

On August 18th, approximately 500 individuals crowded the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner, Louisiana, to hear from Kenneth Feinberg and Mary Landrieu (D-La). The two speakers explained the new Gulf Coast Claims Facility, highlighted its independence, and assured the audience of their concern for victims of the oil spill.

Feinberg, Chief Administrator of the facility, appeared travel weary at his second town hall of the day (the first in Houma) and his seventh visit to Louisiana in the last two months. But he had good news to share: the facility will be ready to commence in less than a week, transitioning away from BP on the morning of August 23rd. He also pledged an outcome to all individual claims within two days of receiving them, and within seven days for business claims.

Kenneth Feinberg, Chief Administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility

Alongside logistical information and responses to questions, Feinberg’s primary message was that people would do well to trust him and his independence. “[The GCCF] is not part of BP. It is not part of the government. It is an independent program, established by the administration and BP… I am beholden to neither of them. I am working for you.”

Landrieu introduced the event and echoed Feinberg’s sentiment that there is nothing sinister about the facility. “I just want you all to know that your delegation, along with your elected officials, are working very hard for you… Today we really want to spend the next 45 minutes talking about this claims process and getting your questions answered.”

She also sought to emphasis the collaborative aspect of the facility, that she and Feinberg are working together and that they hold each other in high regard.

“He is an expert in what we have asked him to do. He has already handled many claims processes, starting with the settlement when soldiers came back from Vietnam and there were arguments about Agent Orange… and he is very well respected. He is being paid by BP – we don’t want the taxpayers to have to pick the expenses associated this – but he is independent in his rule making and judgments on these claims. I think the president and BP have made a good choice here.”

Feinberg later joked back that “there is no senator in Washington that has been more on my back about this program than Senator Landrieu.”

Vietnamese individuals had a notable presence, but from the outset there were technical difficulties with the translation system. To remedy the situation, Landrieu offered an additional meeting at the end, just for the Vietnamese community.

May Ngyen, a representative of the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation, said that the language barrier manifested itself in more ways than one might anticipate.

“It’s still a problem. We found out about this meeting very last minute… We did all this organizing in the last 24 hours, and we got 50 people – so you can imagine what our reach would have been if we’d had more days… The entire process is going through mainstream media. We have to go on the Vietnamese radio station and announce about this.” After the meeting, some members of the audience disputed the accuracy of one translator.

Listen to Ngyen’s remarks here (three minutes):

Darlene Kattan, Executive Director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana. Listen to her question and Feinberg’s response below (three minutes).

Darlene Kattan, Executive Director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana, attended and questioned Feinberg on the economic methodology being used, and how this might vary across demographics. While Feinberg did not go into finer details, he assured her and the audience that all individuals and businesses eligible for claims will be subject to the same methodology.

To reinforce Feinberg’s points of the meeting, GCCF representatives handed out copies of a “Claimant Bill of Rights.” The document promoted eight such rights, the first being equal treatment.


Fergus Hodgson is the capitol bureau reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be contacted at fhodgson@pelicanpolicy.org, and one can follow him on twitter.