Cash payments to Sonoma County and other Northern California communities affected by PG&E electrical equipment-related fires will begin disbursing cash payments beginning Monday, a milestone more than three years after the October 2017 firestorm.
Those with valid claims should receive an installment of 30% of the amount owed, according to the trust, which represents wildfire victims in the PG&E bankruptcy settlement.
Not all of the 71,394 claims from residents and businesses with property damage and those whose loved ones died in the blaze are receiving those initial payments — only those whose claims have been substantiated so far.
In an announcement, trustee John Trotter said administrators are moving quickly to verify claims, but the company is “a highly regimented process governed by a multitude of regulations.”
“My goal from day one was to put money in the pockets of wildfire survivors as quickly as possible while making sure we were following the letter of the law and treating each and every complainant fairly and with compassion,” said Trotter, a Court of Appeals retired justice.
Trotter oversees the Fire Victims Trust, which was formed to administer $13.5 billion that PG&E has agreed to pay people affected by the October 2017 North Bay fires and two Butte County fires, one in 2015 and the 2018 campfire that destroyed most of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Late last year, Trotter helped make initial payments of up to $25,000 for thousands of victims amid concerns about how the pandemic is putting additional economic strain on people still recovering from major wildfires. Those upfront payments, which were made even before the claims were reviewed, have totaled about $79 million so far, according to the trust. They are separate from payments, which begin Monday and are expected to continue every two weeks for fully verified claims.
About $30 million will be spent Monday, Trust Administrator Cathy Yanni told Sacramento Bee. But the volume of claims reviews will increase significantly, and this payout round will “certainly be in the hundreds of millions,” Yanni said. The payments will likely take months, she said.
Fire victims have received communications informing them of the total value of their claims. The trust will continue to make installments “until the fund is depleted,” according to the trust.
PG&E funded the $13.5 billion trust with equal amounts of cash and stock. The agreement, reached by the company’s bankruptcy case, has raised concerns after a decline in the company’s stock values since the settlement.
In January, Trotter told fire victims that the fund “underperforms its intended benchmark by more than $1 billion.”
“Unfortunately, this can change either upwards or downwards,” Trotter wrote.
PG&E stock, which closed at $11.51 a share on Friday, has fluctuated between a low of $3.55 and $25.19 for the past two turbulent years.
You can reach Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or [email protected] On Twitter @jjpressdem.