Special Reports

SBA loans, legal aid offered to oil spill victims

BRADENTON — Glenn Brooks is in no rush to file a claim against BP.

The Cortez fisherman is still assessing the financial damage he says the oil spill has had on his livelihood.

He’s keeping track of extra fuel costs as a result of having to fish farther south in the Gulf of Mexico due to restricted fishing grounds.

The restricted grounds, Brooks says, also has limited his access to prime catch like grouper, so he plans to document any loss of income he sees as a result of having to fish for less valuable species.

“Our claims will keep mounting,” Brooks said. “So I’m in no hurry to file the claims right now unless I’m really hurting for money. I’m just waiting to get all mine documented.”

While Brooks hasn’t yet filed for financial assistance, many self-employed individuals and small businesses in Florida are starting to actively file BP claims and apply for Small Business Administration loans.

The latest BP claims report filed Friday shows the oil company has paid 22,810 claims totaling $17.9 million in Florida.

In Manatee County, 111 claims totaling $20,952 claims have been paid.

On June 19, BP announced it had surpassed the $100 million mark in paid claims to Gulf Coast states. By Friday, BP had paid an additional $26 million. BP has set aside $20 billion to fund claims.

“Our focus has been on getting money into the hands of fishermen, shrimpers, condo owners and others who have not been able to earn income due to the spill,” said Darryl Willis, who leads the BP claims team, in a press release. “We have also been addressing the larger, more complex claims and have been successful in sending more checks to commercial entities.”

Those paid through the BP claims process, however, will have to pay taxes on that money to the federal government.

The Internal Revenue Service said BP payments for lost wages are taxable and those victims will have to pay come tax season.

While BP has received 64,000 claims to date since the April 20 oil disaster, the Small Business Administration also has received a high number of loan applications from businesses needing financial assistance.

On May 14, the SBA announced it would offer low-interest loans to small businesses near the Gulf of Mexico affected by the Deepwater Horizon spill through its economic injury disaster loan program.

To date, the SBA has approved 13 economic injury disaster loans to small businesses in Florida totaling $778,900. Meanwhile, the SBA has 115 loan applications under review from Florida small businesses and has issued 450 loan applications statewide.

The counties receiving the most funds are those in the Panhandle, with Bay County leading the group with $139,400 in loans.

“The most active counties requesting the SBA disaster loans are Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Escambia and Bay,” said Matthew Young, a spokesman for the SBA.

The economic injury disaster loan program offers working capital loans up to $2 million with a 4 percent interest rate with terms of up to 30 years.

Businesses must demonstrate economic injury in their application, and the SBA is requesting federal income tax returns, current financial statements and monthly sales figures to determine whether business has been hurt.

“Our main message is to encourage those who have suffered financial losses to come to one of our centers and speak with an SBA representative, call our SBA customer service center, e-mail us or go online,” Young said.

Mary Ann Brockman, president of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, said she plans to notify chamber members about the economic injury loans available through the SBA.

While Manatee County and a majority of Florida’s Gulf Coast remains free of tar balls, sheen and spill, Brockman said some hoteliers are reporting slow reservations for the Fourth of July.

“Some are beginning to feel a bit of a crunch,” Brockman said.

“It’s a wait and see. Advanced bookings were slow for the Fourth. We should get a lot of people that book in advance because the kids are out of school and the Fourth is a big deal on the island.”

The Bradenton-based law firm Kirk Pinkerton assembled an oil spill response team, headed by Bill Robertson and Casey Colburn, to assist local businesses with the BP claims process.

Robertson said he has helped an undisclosed number of clients in Bradenton and Sarasota file and receive payments on claims.

A common claim, Robertson said, is hoteliers seeking money lost on cancellations.

“The most critical part of this is quantifying and compiling any and all losses that you’re going to attribute to the oil spill,” Robertson said

“The more concrete proof you can bring to me, the easier it is to get your claim paid. Another thing we’re telling clients to do is make sure they monitor what their business is like this year compared to this time last year, factoring in the economy.”

At the Beach Bistro in Holmes Beach, owner Sean Murphy said he’s been in frequent contact with his attorney so he can be prepared to file a claim if necessary.

“We’re not seeing any damage yet; the beaches are pure and clean, the grouper and shrimp both taste great,” Murphy said. However, Murphy is concerned the perception of the Gulf Coast could quickly change that.

“Misinformation can be damaging,” Murphy said. “I think by and large on the island everybody is educating themselves as to what (financial) avenues are available to them. I’m getting ready in case their should be a need to file a claim.”

OIL SPILL HELP

For more information on the SBA’s economic injury disaster loan program, contact the SBA disaster assistance customer service center at (800) 659-2955, e-mail disastercustomer service@sba.gov, or visit sba.gov/services/disasterassistance.

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