NAPLES, Fla--When the BP oil spill interrupted their lives, three different families turned to us for help. All of them suffered business losses, but their claims were denied. Not one family could get a reason why.
Roberto Cabrera from Naples fishes for king mackerel in Louisiana.
"They took my heart. They took my heart," said Cabrera, "That's all I have to say They took my heart. We can not go back to Louisiana."
Ron Ziemba runs a Naples limousine service taking tourists from the airport to their hotels.
Ziemba says over the summer, "Literally our phones stopped ringing."
Commercial fishermen Tauni Roster and her husband's situation is more complex.
They were in the process of changing from deep line fishing to crabbing.
The couple sold half their Fort Myers Beach business: their fishing IFQs. Those are the quotas for the amount of fish their allowed to catch.
They were about to finalize the sale of their boat but after the spill the buyer backed out. He gave them a written letter saying he would not buy the boat because fishing was closed in the gulf due to the BP oil spill.
That put the rosters out of business.
"You have to have IFQ's to fish. I already sold em. I had the boat sold and thought (it was) a done deal. Well not a done deal," said Tauni Roster, "Now I have a boat but I can't fish because I sold my IFQ's already. There's no going back on that."
All three families turned in hundreds of documents like tax returns, bank records, receipts and even pictures proving their case.
"They asked me for papers and papers and I sent them everything they have asked for," said Cabrera
"Our envelope when we turned in, it was literally three inches thick," said Ziemba.
Roster says she gave them hundreds of documents too. "Anything else they asked for I was like 'Fine. Fine. Fine. Just give it to them!'"
All three received the same rejection form-letter.
"We got a letter: we've been denied because we don't fit their criteria," said Roster.
"I opened it and I had to rub my eyes because I couldn't believe it said declined," said Ziemba who received some money from BP before the Gulf Coast Claims Facility took over processing payments.
Furthering their frustration, the letter doesn't tell them why they were rejected or what they were missing. It also tells them they can appeal but the Gulf Coast Claims Facility doesn't allow anyone to appeal unless their claim is more than 250 thousand dollars.
Searching for help, Tauni Roster called us and her Senator.
"I have sent copies of everything to Senator Bill Nelson and I am hoping the Senator's office can help us out by maybe getting them to review it," Roster told us optimistically.
But even Senator Nelson is having trouble getting answers from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. He has sent 40 cases to the facility for review with no response. Other lawmakers are receiving similar push back. Florida CFO Jeff Atwater also sent a letter about more than a hundred complaints his office has received. He also received no response.
During a recent hearing on Capitol Hill with facility director Ken Feinberg, several gulf coast Senators pointed out problems in the process like that denial letter.
"Your claim has been denied. You did not supply documentation," Senator Mary Landrieu, (D) Louisiana, read from the letter to the committee, "This form letter doesn't say because you didn't give your birth certificate? Your drivers license? It gives no specific documentation."
You could hear the mounting frustration from gulf coast senators.
"I am becoming more and more convinced there is a difference between your vision and what's happening on the ground," Landrieu said to Feinberg, "This is fairly desperate for some of our businesses."
All of the families who called us for help echo that sentiment.
"We're in limbo. Yep. Absolutely," said Roster.
Ken Feinberg told the senators that he would have the methodology he uses to pay claims posted on the website by Tuesday, February 1st.
After keeping that methodology open for public comment for two weeks, he told the committee he intends to pay out thousands of final claims. Click here for a link to the Gulf Coast Claims Center website.
Meanwhile, Feinberg is urging people with claims under $250,000 who want to appeal to do so to the Coast Guard. Click here for a link to the Coast Guard website.
Click here for a link to the letter sent by Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.