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BP Promises Better Claims Performance

BP’s point man on settling claims got an earful Wednesday as he met with Florida officials to streamline the payment of claims for the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Called in to update state leaders on the company’s claims paying process, BP vice president Darryl Willis said the company is learning from mistakes made early on in Louisiana, and working to speed up payments to affected business and individuals while it transfers oversight of the claims process to an independent entity.

Willis met Monday with Ken Feinberg, who last week was tapped to administer a $20 billion BP recovery fund. BP has put the money into escrow to pay claims, the first of what could be a series of similar escrow deposits as the company responds to the massive spill. So far, the firm has paid more than 38,000 claims worth $132 million.

Willis, who’s become the public face of BP reimbursement efforts, said the company plans to continue to provide relief for individuals, businesses and local governments that have all been affected by the spill.

“As we go through this transition from BP to an independent facilitator we are going to stay with it … to make sure that no business goes out of business as the result of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico and no person who is affected misses a house payment, a boat payment or a car payment,” Willis said.

Chief among the frustrations expressed Wednesday by a state panel examining how well BPO is doing in reimbursing Florida residents and business owners was the inability of larger businesses to get claims paid quickly.

While BP has been good about getting relief to individuals, businesses have had a more difficult time getting reimbursed, panel members said.

Jeff Taggart, the owner of a Pensacola Beach marina, said he lost $40,000 in business for the second week in June because the fishing fleet has been idled. That did not include $25,000 in fuel he purchased with BP’s assurances he would be quickly reimbursed. He has only seen $10,000 in payments since filing his claim the first week in May, he said.

Taggart said he stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in the coming weeks alone as fishery closures and oil-tainted waters shut down commercial fishing and charter boat fleet during the busiest time of the year.

“I am, right now, financing BP’s clean-up effort,” Taggart said.

If businesses can’t pay their bills, they can’t pay their workers. That exacerbates the problems brought on by the disaster.

“Let’s get the large claims paid,” said Eileen Estrad, chief financial officer for Resort Quest, a real estate and property management company with properties along the Gulf. “Employers want to get employees paid.”

BP gets the message, said Willis, adding that he hops the transition of payments to Fienberg will show immediate benefits.

“It is clear that we need...to better handle business claims,” Willis said. “The process has been cumbersome and challenged and far from perfect. I’m confident it will improve going forward.”

“I don’t have to tell you that there is frustration out there,” state Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon, a member of the Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force, said of the claims process. “What I want to do with this group is not to vent our frustration but to come up with ways to improve this process if possible.”

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