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Where Things Stand: Gulf Oil Spill Claims

After the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon well triggered the largest oil spill in United States history, BP vowed to "Make it Right" for Gulf Coast residents affected by the spill. One of the central pieces of BP's program to make amends was to create a claims system -- as required under federal law -- to compensate individuals and businesses that lost money as a result of the spill.

ProPublica has examined the claims process closely to see whether BP and the government are delivering on their promises to the Gulf residents. Although nearly $3 billion has been paid out to date, there have also been chronic delays and a lack of transparency about payment decisions that have caused frustration and in many cases serious economic hardship to claimants.

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Help us think through challenges faced by disabled borrowers with outstanding student loans. Borrowers with federal student loans are entitled to discharge these loans if they become “permanently and totally disabled.” Most private loans do not permit disabled borrowers to discharge their loans. You don’t need first-hand experience counseling disabled borrowers to help us. We’re looking for any insights you’ve had that may shed light on their experiences, and on other issues confronting disabled borrowers with student loans.

Struggling to Pay Off Student Loans Because a Disability Prevents You From Working?

Your experiences and insights about dealing with student debt while living with a disability will help ProPublica reporter Sasha Chavkin to investigate the challenges confronting borrowers who become disabled. He is examining the difficulties that borrowers face in proving that they are unable to work and getting forgiveness for their student loans. Any insight or feedback you provide is much appreciated. Information you provide may be shared with other Public Insight Newsrooms exploring this subject at a later date.

Gulf Spill Paymaster Acknowledges Transparency Problems and Outlines Fixes

As the damage claims process for the Gulf oil spill moves into its second phase -- from issuing emergency payments to considering final claims -- administrator Kenneth Feinberg yesterday unveiled a variety of improvements that he says will increase transparency and offer more options to claimants.

Feinberg said there had been "constructive criticism" about opaque decision-making and poor communications during the emergency payments process and promised to make several changes. (We reported on the lack of transparency on several times, for example on claimants' struggles to get basic information about the status of their claims.)

Read Gulf Spill Paymaster’s Just-Released Protocol for Final Claims

Yesterday, we published a letter by the Justice Department expressing its concerns about an early draft of Gulf claims chief Kenneth Feinberg's protocol for evaluating final claims. Unlike the emergency payments that Feinberg's operation has offered so far, final claims cover both past and future damages caused by the spill, and claimants who receive them must sign a waiver giving up their right to sue.

Today, Feinberg released the protocol to the public, and you can read it on our document viewer.

The protocol shows that Feinberg has followed some of the Justice Department's advice. For example, the Justice Department called on Feinberg to decide all emergency payments by Dec. 15 and make interim payments -- which will be offered on a quarterly basis under the new system -- available more frequently for claimants who are in financial need. Feinberg has adopted both of these recommendations in his protocol.

Feinberg said in a press conference this morning that his protocol would offer the most favorable terms for compensation of any option available to claimants. "I am determined to be more generous than the courts would be," Feinberg said.

You can read the protocol for yourself, and we will keep you updated as we examine the rules for deciding final claims.

Read Justice Dept.‘s Letter Criticizing Gulf Spill Czar’s Final Claims Guidelines

Tomorrow, Gulf claims czar Kenneth Feinberg will release his protocol for evaluating final claims -- the lump sum settlements that are meant to cover all losses from the spill but require claimants to waive their right to sue BP. He will begin reviewing applications for final claims after the Thanksgiving holiday.

The Department of Justice has reviewed an early draft of Feinberg's protocol, and on Nov. 19 Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli wrote to Feinberg expressing concerns about the proposed guidelines. He also urged Feinberg to improve his operation's transparency by offering a more detailed explanation of the principles that are used to decide claims. You can read Perrelli's letter, which we've posted in our document viewer.

Photo by flickr user sparkieblues http://www.flickr.com/photos/sparkieblues/3971258497/

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