PG&E stock sale may mean more cash for California wildfire victims

According to the claims data, close to half of the nearly 70,000 fire victims are still waiting for a 45% partial payment.

Melanie Woodrow Image
Friday, October 7, 2022
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With PG&E back to the S&P 500, Fire Victim Trust says sale of its shares would help continue to resolve claims and get money to the CA fire victims.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It's been more than two years since the Fire Victim Trust was created to pay PG&E victims of the 2015 Butte Fire, 2017 North Bay Wildfires and the deadliest 2018 Camp Fire, but nearly half of the close to 70,000 claimants are still waiting to be paid.

Prior to the Camp Fire, David Breed, his wife and son lived in a mortgage free home. Since the camp fire, they've shared a 32-foot RV.

"We're kind of in a limbo, we don't have enough to rebuild and we're just essentially stuck, we've been in this RV now since November of 2018," said Breed.

Breed says he received a 45% partial payment from the the Fire Victim Trust. The trust refers to these payments as pro rata payments. They are a portion of the total determination the trust and the claimant agree the trust will ultimately pay the claimant.

In some ways, Breed is one of the lucky ones. According to claims data released as of Sept. 30, a little more than half of the nearly 70,000 claimants have received these partial payments.

"Every day I am on the phone with clients who are frustrated and as their representative, I'm frustrated with them and for them," said attorney Matthew French.

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French says approximately 20% of his nearly 200 fire victim clients have not received a determination from the trust which would tell them how much the trust is offering to ultimately pay them.

"I have people who are sleeping in their cars and tents or living with relatives, they have not been able to recover from this fire," said French.

According to a message posted to the Fire Victim Trust website on Sept. 30 by trustee Cathy Yanni, 82% of all claim questionnaires submitted to the trust have received determinations. Yanni writes that a near-term goal for the trust is to issue determination notices for at least 90% of the remaining claims by the end of this year and to get those claimants their entitled partial payments.

Fire victims like Breed question whether the trust will have enough money to pay all fire victims.

According to court documents, the trust is funded half with cash and half with PG&E stock which means the value of the trust constantly changes.

In May of 2021, ABC7 News I-Team reporter Melanie Woodrow asked Yanni, "Will there be enough money to pay all the claimants?"

RELATED: Fire Victim Trust answers questions about $51 million spent as CA wildfire victims await payments

"Oh yeah definitely, there will be, I don't have any doubt about that," Yanni replied.

Wednesday, the trust sold 35 million shares of PG&E stock as the stock hit more than $14 for the first time since March of 2020. The trust said the sale would help it continue resolving claims and getting money to fire victims equitably and efficiently.

PG&E was recently added back to the S&P 500 after getting the boot in 2019.

Summit Strategy Group, a California-based consulting firm specializing in corporate reputation, issues management and crisis communications, tells ABC7 News it is working with the Fire Victim Trust. In an email writing, "Our assumption is this will help elevate the valuation of the stock, which in turn will increase the funds eventually available to the Trust to continue paying fire victims." Adding, "Now that PG&E will be included in the S&P 500, it suggests that fund managers will direct investments automatically to PG&E stock."

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

On the same day, the governor vetoed a bill which would have required the California Public Utilities Commission to review actions taken by PG&E that adversely affect its stock. In a statement, the governor wrote, "... it is not clear this bill would help the wildfire victims." The Governor said the CPUC does not have the internal expertise to evaluate how utility corporate behavior impacts a utility's stock value, which would require it to retain outside experts at a significant cost to ratepayers.

RELATED: PG&E's trust to pay wildfire victims is millions short; bill proposed would bail them out, but how?

According to the trust's Sept. 30 claims data, the trust has paid out more than $5 billion in initial and partial percentage payments to claimants.

While many are still waiting for their 45% partial payment, Breed says until he gets another payment, his family can't rebuild.

"We just want to move on with our lives it's been long enough," said Breed.

If you're a fire victim and would like to share your story with ABC7 News, you can email Melanie Woodrow at melanie.woodrow@abc.com or reach her on Facebook or Twitter.

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