BP Says It Will Speed Up Payments for Gulf Businesses, Workers

BY Lea Winerman  June 10, 2010 at 4:14 PM EDT

BP will speed up its claims payments to the shrimpers, fisherman, business owners and others affected by the Gulf coast oil spill, government officials said Thursday.

The company will change its practice of waiting to make a payment until a company has closed its books at the end of the month, said Tracy Wareing, of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“BP recognized that their previous approach [...] will not work,” Wareing said. “It won’t get dollars out quickly enough for the businesses that are struggling on the ground.”

Instead, BP will base payments on the companies’ upcoming projected expenses.

The announcement came a day after Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is heading the federal government’s oil spill response, met with BP executives to press them on the claims issue, asking them to speed up the process as well as make it more transparent to the public and federal officials.

BP says it has paid about 19,000 claims totaling more than $53 million, and has emphasized in radio and television ads that it is paying all legitimate claims.

But the company had come under increasing pressure from federal officials as well as state and local officials in Louisiana for not making public detailed data about those claims.

And anecdotally, some in the region say the help isn’t coming fast enough.

“Every day, we call the adjuster eight or 10 times. There’s no answer, no answering machine,” restaurant owner Regina Shipp, who has filed for $33,000 in claims, told NPR. “If BP doesn’t pay us within two months, we’ll be out of business.”

Eric Authement, who co-owns a shrimp processing plant in Dulac, La., told the Washington Post that BP did not immediately pay his company’s claim, even though production is down as much as 90 percent. BP has said that, because the shrimp shortage has nearly tripled the price for some varieties of shrimp, Authement’s company could still make a profit. BP has asked for more paperwork.

BP spokesman Mark Proegler told NPR that the company has not been dragging its feet on paying claims, and that in fact BP had cut the time to issue a check from 45 days to as little as 48 hours once the necessary documentation is in order.