The man overseeing the BP spill claims process, Ken Feinberg, was back in the Panhandle Tuesday morning, talking to locals about the immediate future of the program.
Feinberg, along with U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, hosted a 2 hour community forum at the Florida State Panama City campus.
The claims czar spent a good part of his time with community members and leaders Tuesday morning, dispelling myths about the claims process.
"You do not need to have oil on your beach in order to be eligible to file a claim," said Feinberg.
"You're eligible to demonstrate you've lost income as a result of perception that the spill has inhibited the ability to swim," added Feinberg.
Feinberg was appointed by President Obama, but he's being paid by BP. Tuesday, he announced BP will be turning the entire claims process over to him on August 23rd.
"I'll be here again next week to make sure everybody understands that on August 23rd file your claim, offer your proof so that we can pay these claims," Feinberg said.
He's promising this independent process will be more responsive verifying claims and settling quickly.
"My goal after August 23rd, for emergency payments in most cases, within 24 hours after the claim is considered the check should be cut," he said.
That sounds good to James and Susan Long. They say business at their Panama City wedding company has dropped 40% since the spill in April. They say the current claims process has frustrated and even angered them.
"It's almost like watching the Wizard of Oz. You get there and then the man behind the glass is asking for things through the person sitting at the desk. It's almost like the Great Oz. Go back and get the witch's broom. Now you need to go and get one of them flying monkeys. You need to go get the door off that house you came in on. So it's just been go back to square one, go back past square one. It seemed like stalling tactics."
They're hoping Feinberg can turn things around quickly.
"Leaving here today you feel better about what Feinberg had to say? Yes, yes it's still a wait and see like he said but definitely."
Feinberg plans to keep the 35 claims offices in place because people are familiar with them but he will assume responsibility from BP. He's also hoping to launch a more convenient and accessible on-line filing process in the near future.