Angela Gladwell, the director of the federal office overseeing nearly $4 billion in compensation for victims of a wildfire accidentally triggered by the federal Forest Service, is stepping down as part of what the agency describes as a restructuring of federal disaster response across the state.
The move comes amid sustained criticism of the performance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which Source New Mexico and ProPublica have reported on for the past year. The office didn’t pay its first claim until April, and through midsummer it had paid less than 1% of its allocation. The pace has picked up since, but many residents were in limbo as they awaited checks to rebuild. FEMA faces two lawsuits over its decision not to pay for intangible losses, even though the state Attorney General maintains it should. And it faces other lawsuits claiming it has missed payment deadlines.
According to law firm Singleton Schreiber, dozens of fire victims have waited longer than 180 days to receive offers of payment from the date the claims office “acknowledged” their claims. The firms also accuse FEMA of illegally waiting to start the clock on payment processing until they formally “acknowledge” claims, rather than from the date a claim is submitted.