Moral Low Ground


Louisiana Shrimper Gets Down on Bended Knee; Begs BP Claims Attorney for Help

A diverse crowd of 300 fishermen packed into the civic center in Jean Lafitte, Louisiana on Tuesday to listen to and confront Kenneth Feinberg, the Obama-appointed special administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund. Among the standing room only audience was shrimper Elmer Rogers of Empire, Louisiana, who fell to  his knees and begged Feinberg for assistance.

“I’m not asking for the world,” Rogers pleaded, “I’m just asking for something to live on, man. That’s all I’m asking for. What do you want me to do, get on my knees and beg for it? Look, I’m here, I’m on my knees for it. I need my money sir, to live.”

He continued: “Thanksgiving, I was under review. My kids barely ate. I barely ate. Christmas came. My child is 13 years old. She got nothing. You know what she woke up to? No water in the house, and no power.”

“You’ll hear from me personally within the next day,” Feinberg promised. But it wasn’t the first time the two men have met. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Feinberg met with Rogers last September, a meeting that ended with the attorney promising the shrimper he’d be paid within 48 hours. But Rogers’ compensation was denied.

Elmer Rogers wasn’t the only one upset in the crowd. Diana Poche stood to confront Feinberg, waving a thick stack of hundreds of documents. “This is my documentation,” she said, “every ‘i’ and ‘t’ was dotted. I even put a letter from my Mayor Timmy Kerner in it, but I’m going to tell you something. They said I was denied because I didn’t have enough paperwork right here.”

Many others in the audience also expressed their common frustration at the Byzantine, glacial claims process. Feinberg admitted than mistakes have been made, but he said that he and his staff were “doing the best” they could. He pointed to the $3 billion in compensation that BP has thus far paid out to about 170,000 people. Claimants who are willing to forgo lawsuits against BP are also eligible for either a final settlement offer or a $5,000 payment ($25,000 for businesses).

“Five thousand dollars?” asked an incredulous woman in the audience. “Do not insult me!”

The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion, fire and spill killed 11 people and released over 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, eviscerating the $659 million fishing industry and  damaging delicate marine and coastal ecosystems in every single Gulf Coast state. Coupled with an economy that was already crippled from Hurricane Katrina and the global financial meltdown, the disaster destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents.

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