Just over two weeks ago, Kenneth Feinberg took over the process for handling damage claims from the Gulf oil spill, pledging to cut down the response time from BP's widely criticized system to two days for individuals and seven days for businesses that file fully documented claims.
After a rocky start in which claimants have reported chronic delays and confusion, Feinberg is now retreating from his targets and acknowledging that the process will take longer than he had pledged.
"The announced 48-hour claim determination rule for individual claims, and the 7-day claim determination rule for business claims will be extended as necessary and appropriate," Feinberg's spokeswoman Amy Weiss told us. "The policy remains to review all individual and business claims as quickly as possible."
Weiss said one reason for the delays is that claimants are providing so many documents. She said lengthy and complex supporting documentation "requires careful scrutiny and attention to assure that each claimant will be afforded the benefit of the most generous payment."
Last week, we reported that Feinberg's Gulf Coast Claims Facility was lagging in processing claims, much as BP itself did before Feinberg took over in late August. The story came to our attention following reports from applicants participating in our BP Claims Project that they had waited longer than the promised response time without hearing from the facility, and faced service problems such as a system crash and difficulty in transferring key paperwork. (If you've filed a claim with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, you can tell a reporter about your experience using this quick online form. If you've worked for one of the claims center and want to share your experience, you can use this form.)
While Weiss acknowledged at the time that there would be delays "in the first few weeks" of the transition, she said then that the policy was to make a preliminary evaluation of claims within 24 hours, and then send checks within 48 hours to individuals who've documented their claims.
Now, the processing time appears to have been extended indefinitely as considered "necessary and appropriate" by Feinberg's operation.
So far, the fund has issued payments on 10,252 of 47,949 emergency payment claims that have been submitted so far, or about 21 percent of the total, according to its latest statistics (PDF).
Earlier this week, Feinberg apologized to those affected by the delays. Feinberg said that while many claims could not be processed because people hadn't sent enough documentation, he acknowledged that his staff was falling behind even in managing fully documented claims.
"There are many, many claims where we have violated our own rule" of paying within 48 hours or seven days. "It's taking longer than I had hoped," Feinberg told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "Those critics who say Ken Feinberg raised our expectations and then is not living up to those expectations, they're absolutely right, and I owe them an apology," he said.
ProPublica is tracking the claims process. If you've filed a claim with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, you can tell a reporter about your experience by visiting propublica.org/claims. If you've handled claims for BP or the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, you can tell a reporter about your experience here.