BP Oil Spill: As Pay Czar Promises Money, Workers Turned Away From BP Claims Center

Feinberg says money is on the way; Coast Guard defends spill response.

June 17, 2010, 6:17 PM

June 18, 2010— -- Kenneth Feinberg arrived at the Louisiana State Capitol today in Baton Rouge with a mandate from President Obama -- get the money flowing to the people of the Gulf.

Millions of dollars worth of claims have been filed by businesses and people who've lost their livelihoods because of the BP oil spill, but 60 days into the crisis, lawmakers say the company has paid only 12 percent of them.

Feinberg promised that will soon change and encouraged workers to file their claims. President Obama this week named Feinberg as his "pay czar" for BP's oil spill escrow account.

"We'll decide who will get paid," he promised, saying "we're going to get them paid immediately. [...] A matter of days."

But even as Feinberg made that promise today, ABC News watched as BP turned workers away from a claims center in Mobile, Alabama. They were told they didn't have the right paperwork -- the trip tickets, deposit slips, bank statements and tax returns needed.

Feinberg said he can fix the problem.

"We're going to make sure people get emergency money and accelerate the process," he said.

For Gulf Coast workers like deckhand Dan Wolfer, the relief can't come soon enough. He filed a claim a month ago but, so far, hasn't received a single check. Wolfer had to give up the family car after they couldn't make payments, and his wife is now walking to work.

For business owners who have received checks, like charter fishing captain Dave Joachim, the payments that have come have not covered their losses. He said he's lost more than $40,000 already, but his check from BP was for $5,000.

The average payment from BP is just $3,000, but Feinberg said today that those checks will soon get "much higher."

"Even BP has admitted to me that these are emergency payments," he said, promising that people will be paid in full on his timeline.

If you are looking to contact the claims facility please call 1-800-440-0858

Exclusive: Coast Guard Captain Defends Decisions

In a helicopter off the coast over the site of the BP spill today, Coast Guard Capt. Roger Laferriere defended the government's response while acknowledging problems in an exclusive interview with ABC News.

"We could do better and we are doing better," said Laferriere, who is number-two in charge of the federal response, under Adm. Thad Allen.

Laferriere is the man who temporarily ordered Gov. Bobby Jindal's oil-sucking barges stopped two days ago, a decision that outraged many when they heard the news.

"Safety is my number one priority," he said, arguing that the Coast Guard is fighting the spill with everything it has.

Up to 14 controlled fires are being conducted every day, and they've already burned 125,000 barrels that would otherwise have drifted toward shore. At the site of the accident, two tankers now collect oil that is being siphoned from the leak. And huge ocean skimmers, the largest of their kind, are scooping up 8,000 barrels of oil per day.

"We have exhausted all our east coast supply of skimming vessels. We are now looking at Norway, France, Spain and other European vessels," Laferriere said. "Got to get them out to sea."

But why aren't those larger skimmers already here, eight weeks into the disaster?

"One of the challenges we have is the regulatory scheme," said Laferriere.

A law from the 1920s called the Jones Act stands in the way, declaring that the Coast Guard has to use only American vessels. The Coast Guard ran into the same problem after Hurricane Katrina, but it took just a week to get around it.

"We had to work with the president and Adm. Allen to get the Jones Act waived," said Laferriere.

The international skimmers are now expected to arrive on the Gulf Coast in July.

Judy Isikow, Glen Dacy, Christine Romo and James Wang contributed to this story.