FEMA May Bill California Fire Victims if PG&E Doesn't Pay

Federal Emergency Management Agency acting Administrator Peter Gaynor. The federal agency is under scrutiny by California lawmakers after they requested money from wildfire victims. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said that if it doesn't receive $3.9 billion from PG&E, the agency would have to charge fire victims.

As first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, if FEMA does obtain the $3.9 billion it would come from a multi-billion dollar deal made last year that settles all claims from multiple California wildfires. If it doesn't receive this money, FEMA said it would have to bill wildfire victims roughly $282 million.

Officials with FEMA argue they are obligated to seek reimbursement since some of the recent destructive California wildfires were not natural disasters, but instead caused by PG&E's equipment.

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FEMA is already under fire from California lawmakers for asking the utility for money.

In a Jan. 8 letter addressed to Peter Gaynor — the acting administrator of FEMA — lawmakers wrote: “[T]his decision by FEMA jeopardizes the intended purpose of the fund, which was established to provide some measure of justice and restitution to thousands of households victimized by wildfires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018.”

Lawmakers also said FEMA would "risk the possibility that the thousands of families still struggling to rebuild their lives will not receive the restitution they deserve.”

The lawmakers have also requested a meeting with FEMA.

FEMA spokesperson David Passy said the agency would prefer that the PG&E settlement amount increases, rather than having to bill wildfire victims.

"There’s still room for the settlement number to change," Passy said.

PG&E has a June 30 deadline to have all settlements finalized in order to to participate in the state's wildfire fund that would help protect the company from future fire losses.

"I would expect a lot more of our government than to treat victims of disasters in such a way," wildfire victims attorney Amanda Riddle said regarding FEMA's claim.

A hearing on the issue is scheduled in San Francisco's federal bankruptcy court on Feb. 11.

In a statement, PG&E said it does not believe FEMA has a valid legal claim against it.

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