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Feinberg lays out plan for $20 billion BP claims fund

From Martina Stewart, CNN Associate Producer
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Feinberg: 'I work for the people'
  • Attorney in charge of administering $20 billion oil compensation fund
  • Program should be running by first week of August, Kenneth Feinberg says
  • Six-month payouts provide "some degree of additional financial certainty"

Washington (CNN) -- The man charged with independently administering the $20 billion fund set up to compensate for damage caused by the Gulf oil disaster said Sunday that he is prepared to provide up to six months in emergency compensation without the requirement of releasing BP from liability.

In an appearance on CNN's State of the Union, attorney Kenneth Feinberg said he expected to have his independent compensation program running by the first week of August. Feinberg told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley that his operation will be superimposed on top of the claims process already put in place by BP, which has more than 1,000 people working out of 35 offices in the Gulf Coast region.

"We'll keep the people who are good. We'll add people. We'll accelerate claims. We'll process the claims as quickly as we can," Feinberg said. "We're already prepared to give eligible claimants not one month emergency payments but six months with no obligation, no release required. Just to try and help people in the Gulf."

Feinberg described the six-month payouts as providing "some degree of additional financial certainty" for the many individuals and businesses facing the economic havoc caused by the disaster. But Feinberg added that claimants can ask for less than six months in compensation if they so choose.

The well-known attorney, who administered the multi-billion-dollar 9/11 victims' compensation fund and who set salaries for the top executives at banks recently bailed out by the federal government, also provided an overview of how he sees the claims process.

"Well, you hope that you can please everybody in one sense," Feinberg told Crowley, "that the [compensation] program is fair. It's quick. It's consistent. The claims are as diverse as human nature and I'll have to look at each claim -- can't prejudge anything. See the facts, observe the facts."

Feinberg also said that he was getting "tremendous cooperation" from the Department of Justice, which should help to prevent fraud as he administers the $20 billion fund. "Nothing can undercut the credibility of this program more than fraud and we'll take every step we can to minimize the likelihood of fraudulent applications and payments," he said.

He also said he was unsure whether the $20 billion BP agreed to set aside at the president's request will be enough to compensate for the oil spill's damage.

"We'll see," he said. "That I can't answer and the main reason I can't answer that yet is I haven't seen all the applications. Until the oil stops [flowing] you don't know how pervasive the oil spill will be. So you don't know if somebody who has not been harmed at all today won't be harmed by additional oil next week. Once the oil stops, I believe, we'll be able to very quickly get sort of a handle on the comprehensiveness of the claims population."

And while Feinberg is focused on figures and economics, he made it clear that the human dimension of the situation is not lost on him as he meets and visits with citizens and officials in the Gulf Coast region.

"People are uncertain," he also told Crowley. "They're worried about their financial certainty. It sure would help, Candy, if the oil stopped. That's one problem that I've got. But they're worried. They're angry. They're disappointed. They're frustrated."

He added, "But I'm confident as with the other [compensation] programs I've designed, if I have the chance to meet with people, give them assurance that we're going to be fair in our consideration of every application -- Please file your claim. We will do right by you."