The Deep Water Horizon oil spill caused significant economic impact to southwest Florida. While there was no oil on our beaches, that didn’t stop the media hype throughout the country convincing thousands of tourists to cancel or alter travel plans. Southwest Florida experienced a significant loss of business because of the perceived damage to our beaches and waterways. Businesses such as boat rentals, hotels, restaurants and real estate offices were impacted, including the employees who worked for them. As a result of those businesses suffering, the local economy experienced a ripple effect across a multitude of business sectors one might not otherwise have considered impacted by the spill.
As of September 4, 2011, over 196,064 claims were filed by people or businesses in the State of Florida with total compensation of $2,158,836,335. Yes, that’s two billion dollars paid into the state of Florida. Individual claims for employees total $820,644,655 while business claims total $1,338,191,680. From these numbers alone, it’s easy to see that Florida was certainly harmed by the Oil Spill.
It has been nearly 18 months since the spill occurred. Much of the cleanup work has been completed and the Gulf seafood is available once again. While the local economy is on the way to recovery, many suffered economic impact that continues even today. The Naples Gulf Coast Claims Facility Office closed its doors September 1st leaving Southwest Florida businesses and residents with a long drive to the Clearwater office or a long telephone wait for assistance. The claims process can be daunting.
The GCCF office provided a place where businesses and individuals could get face to face assistance with preparing and filing a claim. However, what many may have discovered, the folks working for the GCCF were not allowed to provide advice on many details pertaining to the best approach to present a claim. They were rightly restricted from giving certain kinds of advice, but nevertheless, provided people with a much needed service to initiate a claim. Now, face-to-face support directly from GCCF staff is only available by driving to one of the remaining GCCF claims facilities.
The claims process is still open and available to individuals and businesses. An individual or business owner must gather historical and current income earning history, calculate the loss, and complete an application for damages. Where a lot of confusion resides for many people, including those preparing claims for the benefit of others, is in understanding how the GCCF is making its determinations. Unfortunately, the GCCF never published any specific guidelines on calculating losses. The financial test found in the instructions is generic and non-specific.
Speaking to several GCCF employees both locally and in Dublin, Ohio, did not shed any light because they were not given any clear guidance in the preparation process. To make matters even more confusing, the GCCF has changed the application of its payout formula at least three times creating different compensation scales for the same class/category of individual or business.
By way of example, servers at the same restaurant can expect different results even though their earnings and losses were identical! Let’s say three servers all earn $25,000 per year. All three servers apply for a claim. Server #1 could receive $36,000, and Server#2 $8,000 while Server #3 is denied completely. Think this isn’t happening? The example just given actually happened.
Obviously this adds to the level of frustration and confusion to the claims process, and for preparers, especially accountants, it’s reminiscent of dealing with the Internal Revenue Service! Thankfully, those who have been wrongfully denied still have avenues for recourse. If a claim is denied, a re-review may be requested. In our experience, the results of the re-review request have generally been favorable. While not necessarily providing an appropriate amount of compensation, claims may get approved that were initially denied.
There are two types of claims that can still be filed. Interim claims are the most typical type and the other is a final claim. A final claim is just as it sounds and if a final claim is filed it’s a one-time application and completes the process if the claim is approved. An interim claim allows an individual or business claimant to re-file additional claims if additional damages/losses can be documented.
Once a claim is filed and approved for settlement, an individual claimant can expect to receive not less than $5,000 and a business not less than $25,000. With the claims process still open and available, you may want to evaluate your personal or business situation to determine whether filing a claim is in your best interest.
Many individuals and business owners feel overwhelmed by the prospect of filing a claim. There are resources and support available for those interested in filing a claim. While these alternatives are not free, they do provide services for the preparation and submission of claims in a package designed to enhance the prospects for receiving an appropriate settlement offer. One of these alternatives is IAO (Independent Accounting Office Inc. www.iaopay roll.com/content/bp-claims)
IAO continues to assist people with questions, support for preparation and filing of BP Claims. Over the last year, IAO has represented a variety of employees and businesses in a wide range of industries including restaurants, beach rentals, not-for-profit organizations, hotels, salons, retail stores, servers, and employees. This service expanded primarily by word of mouth and now IAO represents over one hundred claims. IAO is a local accounting company providing a variety of accounting, payroll and tax services. The company is based on Marco Island and recently opened an office in Naples in response to the expanding BP Claims support and payroll business.
IAO provides all BP claims support completely on a contingency basis. That is they will review an individual or business potential claim and provide all services necessary to document and file the claim for absolutely no upfront cost. IAO takes all fees based on a successful claim award. As BP claims relate to an economic loss, engaging an accounting professional to organize and prepare a claim that clearly documents that loss, and ensures full compliance with GCCF filing requirements, just seems like common sense.
IAO has assisted many people and businesses which have tried submitting their claim unassisted, only to be denied or to receive a settlement offer significantly less that the loss they believe they have suffered. The unique value added by IAO is the understanding of what the claims processors at the GCCF are looking for to justify the claim. GCCF maintains that if a business or individual has a legitimate claim, they want to make sure you receive an appropriate settlement. What IAO does for the claimant is to organize and document the loss in a manner that is clear and understandable and compliant with the GCCF guidelines.
IAO will review the situation for a potential client and advise if it is likely that the claim will result in an award. If in IAO’s opinion there is a valid claim, they will prepare the claim and submit it to the GCCF. The client has only to provide the required documentation. Usually the process begins with the client having a telephone interview with a claims analyst. During this interview the basic client information is obtained which includes information about the nature of the loss. For individuals, this includes the documentation required by GCCF such as W-2’s for prior years of employment and payroll history in 2010.
For businesses, more documentation is needed which includes company financials for the years preceding the spill as well as 2010 and 2011 business results. Other information may be requested once the analyst reviews the initial information. Following the telephone interview, an appointment will be arranged with the client to bring documents to IAO and complete the claim submission process. IAO will complete preparation of the claim and submit it to the GCCF.
The GCCF review process can take three weeks or as long as six months. IAO monitors the status and reviews the GCCF determination. If the GCCF agrees that the client has suffered a loss an offer for interim payment and a final settlement offer is received. The interim offer can be appealed if it is deemed to be inadequate based on the loss suffered. The check for the interim offer can be cashed without prejudicing the potential for a re-review. The final offer is just that, a final offer. If the client accepts a final offer, the GCCF will make the payment and the claims process is complete. IAO will advise clients on accepting offers based on the individual client’s situation.
For more information you can contact IAO BP Claims Assistance at (239) 963- 2936 or by email at BPClaims@IAOPayroll.com