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BP to Get an ‘Earful’ from Florida Cabinet on Claims Process

A top official from BP will get questions Tuesday from state officials on what is taking so long for claims to be paid to Floridians idled by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Attorney General Bill McCollum, CFO Alex Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson will question BP Vice President Bob Fryar on how long Floridians who have filed economic claims with the oil giant can expect to wait before they receive a check, spokesmen for the three said Monday.

About $5 million of the roughly $50 million that BP has sent out in 18,400 checks to people who have filed economic loss claims has gone to Floridians, said Terry McElroy, a spokesman for Bronson. But there are possibly hundreds of other claims outstanding.

Some of the claims, filed by fishermen and others who have lost work as a result of the spill, have been unpaid for more than a month, McElroy said.

“This is how they support themselves,” McElroy said. “They can't make a living and yet they can't get any response on these claims. We don't think that's happening (quickly enough) and the commissioner's very concerned about that.”

McCollum and Sink also expressed concern on Monday about the claims process and both are likely to prod Fryar on just what it will take to get the check in the mail.

Nationally, the $49 million that BP has paid out so far has gone to about 18,400 recipients, and roughly 20,000 more claimants are still waiting for a check, BP vice president of resources Darryl Willis said on National Public Radio on Monday. The majority of that money has gone to claimants in Louisiana, and the amount averages out to about $3,000 per claim, though some are larger and some smaller - and the company has capped initial individual claims at $5,000.

Willis said on a conference call with reporters over the weekend that the company expects to have doubled the amount paid out after mailing June payments and so far hasn't denied any claims. Willis said the $5,000 cap was meant to allow for quick dispersement of the initial claims, and that it would be increased.

On Monday, however, Sink said the $5,000 cap made the payments of little use.

“I'm incensed that BP is devoting resources to an expensive ad campaign touting how quickly they’re writing checks, because payments of $5,000 or less amount to nothing more than a PR ploy,” Sink said in a statement. “These payments are little more than 'bait money' for many of these businesses, and don’t even come close to what they are actually losing. BP needs to start putting its money where its oil is and start writing bigger checks today.”

McCollum spokeswoman Sandi Copes said the attorney general is also concerned about how quickly the company is paying claims, and is expecting that with the oil now moving into Florida near-shore waters there's likely to be an “onslaught” of claims from Florida workers.

The attorney general is interested in “receiving some kind of assurance that (BP) is ready to go, that they can handle the claims process,” said Copes.

Sink has suggested that the federal government take over the payment of claims and then bill the company.

Sink, a Democratic candidate for governor, has been one of the most aggressive critics of BP, and its chairman Tony Hayward, who declined a request from Sink to appear at the Cabinet, choosing to send Fryar instead. Sink's spokesman, Kevin Cate, said the CFO wants a pledge from the company that it will pay for every bit of the damage from the oil.

“She's going to hold them accountable for every single dime of loss that they've impacted on Florida business owners,” said Cate. “She wants them to pay for what they've destroyed.”

Sink's questions and concerns go to not just the claims process, but whether the company is doing enough to help the tourism industry, which fears a major loss in the face of the negative publicity about the spill and whether the company will pay enough for the clean-up that may be necessary in Florida beach communities, Cate said.

“They're likely to get an earful,” Cate said of BP's trip to the Cabinet.

Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for Gov. Charlie Crist, said the governor would likely ask BP about the status of $150 million that he has asked the company to send the state for research and to pay back local governments that have spent money on response to the spill, and said the governor would continue to press the company to live up to its pledge to make whole those affected by the spill..

“If we need more, we're going to ask for more,” Ivey said.

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