Financial fate of wildfire victims in long-term limbo with FEMA, PG&E at odds

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- Like many Tubbs Fire victims, Michael Williams of Coffey Park thought he was finished hearing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

After the disaster, they cleared lots and lent plenty of assistance to the North Bay.

FEMA, as Michael and others say, earned a reputation as a hero.

"Now, they're a zero," said Williams.

And it's all because of money that California Wildfire victims from Butte County, Sonoma County and Paradise might have to pay.

RELATED: Wildfire victims could be forced to pay PG&E's FEMA bill of nearly $4 billion, report says

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been in a legal fight with PG&E for some $3.9 billion in restitution. If PG&E does not settle, FEMA is now warning that it might have to go after some fire victims for money from their fire insurance settlements.

"This is enormously frustrating," said Noreen Evans, an attorney representing thousands of fire victims. "These folks have waited more than two years to get made whole by PG&E. They are on the cusp and FEMA comes in and tries to blow it up. "

FEMA, meantime, spent Monday in clarification mode, saying blame PG&E, not them. Of the $3.9 billion, FEMA would be looking to recoup roughly $100 million in funds that duplicated insurance payments.

"We want to make sure that survivors get all the help and assistance they need from us and PG&E. But, we cannot have taxpayers and insurance from PG&E provide them with the same expenses."

FEMA seeks restitution because it says PG&E was at fault. So far, the utility has yet to pay.

FEMA insists that seeking repayment from victims would be a last, worst-case resort.

RELATED: PG&E faces liability, bankruptcy during recent wildfires despite shutting off power

For now, however, they're still perceived as being the bad guy.

"It almost feels like a bait and switch," said Michael Williams.

"What should happen is FEMA should obtain reimbursement from PG&E after PG&E settles with the wildfire survivors," said Noreen Evans.

PG&E claims no responsibility to FEMA. Here is part of a statement the utility released Monday.

"FEMA does not have a valid legal claim against the company. The Bankruptcy Court has approved our settlement agreements resolving all major wildfire claims."

In short, if you are a wildfire survivor due money from insurance and or PG&E, or from FEMA, save your receipts. You may need them. We have no indication about when.
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