Some Northern CA fire survivors remain in dire straits while waiting for compensation

Action News Now has heard from many fire survivors who are waiting for compensation from the Fire Victim Trust for losses related to PG&E-caused fires. They shared their stories.

Posted: May 9, 2021 5:41 PM
Updated: May 10, 2021 8:23 AM

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA – Action News Now has reached out via social media to help identify people in critical need of financial support as they wait for their settlement offers and partial payments from the Fire Victim Trust (FVT) to compensate them for their losses and pain and suffering due to fires determined to be caused by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E).

Out of 40 people that we heard from six were still living in their cars. One man who had lost his home in the Camp Fire moved to Nevada. He said he is 44 years old and can not work due to medical issues that make it impossible for him to stand very long or walk very far. The man said he is living in the car with his 74-year-old diabetic mother.

Many people shared with Action News Now their concerns that they will die before they receive any money from the FVT. Some had family members who died during the fires and others had family members, parents and spouses, who died after the fires but before any compensation was received.

Medical ailments are prevalent, with cases mentioned involving cancer, blindness, diabetes, PTSD. Others are trying to recover from recent surgeries. Some surgeries can not be conducted yet because several people do not have a safe place to recuperate from a procedure.

One woman who lost her home in the Camp Fire in Butte County said she contacted the FVT trust when her husband became very ill. She said five months later, on Apr. 22, 2021, she heard from the Trust. She said it too late, however, as he had passed away. She is raising kids now on her own now.

Action News Now provided the list of 40 people to the Fire Victim Trust on Saturday. Trust Administrator Cathy Yanni thanked Action News Now for the email and said that she will add the names to their triage list to help those in dire straits receive priority in payments.

Yanni had told Action News Now in a previous interview that people need to contact their attorneys to be prioritized for payment if they are having difficulties that impact their safety.

A couple of military veterans were on the Action News Now list. One is a single mom with four children with Asperger’s who are domestic violence survivors who have been staying with friends and family. She said she is exhausted and her family needs a home of their own.

The other veteran is 100% disabled and is in Concow living in a moldy RV on ten burned acres. The veteran said there is no water, no heat, and no air conditioning. He said only one electrical outlet in the RV is still functional.

One senior citizen said she is renting a mobile home in Paradise, but said it is taking 2/3rds of her Social Security check to cover the rent costs.

The latest claim information from the FVT was provided as of April 30, 2021. Out of 67,170 claimants registered, 9,532 had received preliminary payments of up to $25,000. A total of $122.6 million dollars had been paid out for preliminary payments. That is an average of $12,862 per preliminary payment. Many attorneys took their fees from those preliminary payments, leaving recipients with under $10,000 in their pockets until determination offers are made and the first 30% payment to a claimant is received.

As of April 30, 2021, 334 claimants had received their 30% pro-rata payments on their approved and signed off claims for a total of $72.6 million dollars, which is an average payment of $217,365.

An investigation by reporter Lily Jamali, anchor of KQED-San Francisco’s radio show “The California Report,” revealed that the FVT “racked up $51 million in overhead costs in 2020, while disbursing only $7 million to fire victims.

Jamali said, “...during the first year of operation, the Trust spent nearly 90% of its funds on overhead, while fire victims waited for help.”

Almost all of the fire survivors told Action News Now that they are tired and frustrated waiting for an initial payment of any amount from the Trust. So far fewer than 10,000 of the 70,280 claimants have received payments, either preliminary or pro-rata (30% of their offers). The expectations are that it could take another couple of years for final payments to be made.

No claimants are guaranteed to receive 100% of the offers in their determination notices, however. The percentage they will be paid will depend upon the sales price of PG&E stocks currently owned by the Trust, and by how much is spent in the administration of the Trust itself.

Action News Now continues to work with the Fire Victim Trust in order to clarify the numbers and the issues related to their work in compensating fire victims.  The survivors who will be paid by the Fire Victim Trust had losses from several different fires that were all determined to be caused by PG&E over the past several years.

Disclaimer: This story was written by an employee of Action News Now who lost her home during the Camp Fire.

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