CA wildfire victims to receive more money from PG&E settlement at end of month

Melanie Woodrow Image
Wednesday, January 25, 2023
CA wildfire victims to receive more money from PG&E settlement
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California wildfire victims will receive more money from a PG&E settlement at the end of month.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- California wildfire victims will start to receive more PG&E settlement money at the end of this month, but some are still waiting for their initial payments. There's also lingering confusion about what if any taxes they have to pay on the settlement money.

"We were awakened at about 2:30 in the morning by our neighbor banging on our door. And we could see fire falling from the sky behind him. Not running along the ground but falling from the sky," said David Coronado, who survived the 2017 Tubbs Fire.

"We wanted to rebuild essentially the same house in the same place. We just wanted to go home," Coronado continued.

That's exactly what he did.

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Coronado is one of the nearly 70,000 fire victims who have received money from the Fire Victim Trust. The Trust is compensating California wildfire victims with money from the PG&E bankruptcy settlement, funded half in cash and half in PG&E stock.

He received 45% of his total determination so far and recently found out he'll receive an additional 15%, bringing him to 60% as of Jan. 31. The Fire Victim Trust says the increase in payments to victims was made possible by the Trust's sales of 190 million shares of PG&E stock since October of last year.

"It's great if we ever get it," Coronado said.

According to claims data put out by the Fire Victim Trust, as of Jan. 13, approximately 34% of claimants still haven't received their 45% payments.

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The Trust says as of Jan. 12, it has issued determination notices to 91% of all claimants and that less than 1% of all claims have been appealed.

As for those who haven't been paid yet, the Trust attributes the majority of the problem to what its calling "overhang," those who have received a determination notice but haven't accepted their determination yet.

A spokesperson for the Fire Victim Trust says 22% of claimants given a determination have not yet accepted it.

Aside from the overhang, there's also 9% of claimants the Trust hasn't given a determination to yet. As well as those who have accepted their determination but require court approval before they can be paid. And those who are waiting until the next payment date at the end of the month.

MORE: 'Stronger and better' | Survivors remember North Bay Tubbs Fire 5 years later

Coronado says his frustration is figuring out what if any taxes to pay on the settlement money.

On Sept. 29, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill which would make PG&E wildfire victims' settlement payments state tax free.

Coronado had to amend his prior tax return.

"But that's not much of a problem. The difficulty is on the federal side, is that it is much greater amount of money that we're talking about," said Coronado.

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Efforts to make the payments federally tax free stalled before the end of the year. Congressman Doug LaMalfa reintroduced the bill.

"There's no way to pass the bill before April 15 tax season, right? It's just not going to happen through the house and the senate. So you've got to be prepared for a year two of this," said LaMalfa.

"With all do respect, why not?" asked ABC7 News I-Team Reporter Melanie Woodrow.

"That's a 200-year-old question. Why can't congress move faster on this?" LaMalfa answered with a laugh.

MORE: How CA's investment in wildfire prevention contributed to a less severe fire season

Meaning fire victims will either have to file for an extension or expect to potentially amend their tax returns again.

"It's like being nibbled to death by ducks; you just don't know what's going on," said Coronado.

Nearly six years later, Coronado says navigating the aftermath of the Tubbs Fire feels like a full time job. He's not sure the Fire Victim Trust will ever get victims to 100% of their determinations.

"I'd like to see it end before I die, but I'm not all together sure it will," said Coronado.

If you're a California wildfire victim who would like to speak with ABC7 News, you can contact Melanie Woodrow at melanie.woodrow@abc.com or on Facebook or Twitter @MelanieWoodrow.

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