WASHINGTON — Danielle Thomas spends much of her day with the phone to her ear, listening to hard-luck stories about Alabama workers still dealing with the fallout of last year’s Gulf oil spill. Thomas is an attorney with a legal-aid group that’s helping people navigate the sometimes-byzantine compensation process overseen by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), which administers payouts from BP to workers and business owners affected by the disaster. Nearly a year after the spill, she says a lot of Alabamians are still adrift and waiting for their checks.
“These people are still really, really hurting,” said Thomas, whose group, Legal Services Alabama, deals with many service-industry employees who were stung by a drop-off in tourism last summer. “Bills are coming due, or they’re already way past due. They’re borrowing from friends and families. There are people living out of cars with their children. … It’s unbearable for people.”
The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig last April 20 ushered in a torrent of litigation and a massive, $20 billion compensation program. According to GCCF’s most recent figures, the fund has paid out nearly $4 billion on some 300,000 claims thus far. Kenneth Feinberg, the well-known mediation lawyer the White House appointed administrator of the GCCF, says he’s pleased with his team’s progress. Still, lawyers helping claimants say many have gotten bogged down in the program’s bureaucracy.