August 19, 2010

Alan Chin: Compensation and Loss

Ken Feinberg was appointed by President Obama to lead the new Gulf Coast Claims Facility which will compensate the lost livelihoods resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. With $20 billion dollars from BP and a government mandate, it is supposed to be beholden to neither, and thus replaces BP’s own claims process which has been fraught with so much confusion and frustration these long last few months.

At a town hall meeting in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner yesterday, with Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu at his side, Feinberg made his first public appearances to explain the new program to the people of the Gulf. From the start, his tone was defensive, as if to apologize for BP’s gaffes so far, and he promised that payments would now be swift and fair, and that he “will not nickel or dime” anybody.

Tentative hope, along with suspicion of bureaucracy, greeted him. One question after another related stories of how BP’s own compensation process has left many small businesses, especially, out in the cold. Of how there was inadequate translation for the Vietnamese-American and other immigrant communities. Of how cash-based arrangements had not been accepted as legitimate income to be remedied. Feinberg fielded the forum with some force and charm. He comes well recommended, after all, with his record administering the process after 9/11.

But an inescapable quandary hangs over the entire program: Feinberg confirmed that people who have been working for BP as part of the clean-up effort will have these earnings deducted from whatever payments they will receive, meaning that someone who has not been working will be compensated of course, yet someone who has been may end up receiving the same. Work, or no work, the same. There seems to be no easy way to slice through this without creating division and hurt no matter how much good will goes into designing the formulas.

Feinburg starts his new job officially on Monday morning, August 23. An awful lot hinges on his success or failure.

–Alan Chin


captions– (center and bottom) Vietnamese-American fishermen and shrimpers meet with Ken Feinberg, head of the new Gulf Coast Claims Facility, after a translation system failed during the larger town hall meeting at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner.

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Alan Chin
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