Monday, September 28, 2009

The Permanent Fund Dividend

Imagine living in a state with fresh air, interesting people, and beautiful snow-capped mountains. Now imagine that state paying you to live there. Unimaginable?  Think again. Think - Alaska!

Since 1982, every Alaskan resident has received an annual payment if they have lived in the state for the previous calendar year. With the construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline in the mid-1970s, Alaska voters approved a new Permanent Fund, into which the state's dedicated oil revenues were deposited. In the early '80s, the state legislature created the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, which ensured that the investment income from this fund of dedicated oil revenues would be distributed to state residents through the Permanent Fund Dividend program. This annually distributed payment is called the Permanent Fund Dividend (or PFD).

Every year, the arrival of the PFD has become a much anticipated event. Since 1988, these annual payments have topped $800 per person, with amounts of more than $1000 for many of these years. This year's dividend check, to be issued to direct deposit recipients on October 8th, will be $1305 per person. As long as you have lived in Alaska for this previous calendar year, no matter how rich, poor, young, or old you may be, you will receive a check. Even babies get them! This year, for example, a family of five will be receiving $6525 into their coffers overnight.

This annual autumnal influx of considerable cash into their vacuous vest pockets sends Alaskans into a surefire shopping frenzy. While many sensible people keep the check in the bank, many more splurge on plasma TVs, sound systems, and snow machines, driving sales for local retailers up by as much as 30%. Although the PFD checks are issued in October, car dealerships run specials throughout September allowing buyers to use their upcoming checks as an advance deposit. Alaska Airlines runs PFD specials, enticing even the hardiest to head for warmer climes. When my daughter was in kindergarten nine years ago, a travel agency ran well-advertised PFD specials allowing entire families the opportunity to fly to Hawaii and frolic in the sand and surf of an all inclusive resort, all for the price of that year's PFD. During the last week in October, half of the students in my daughter's kindergarten class were "sick" for a week.

Every year, the PFD presents a tricky ethical, moral, and financial dilemma for Alaskan parents - what do you do with your children's dividend checks? Because the checks are issued to the parents, some decide to simply put the money into the family budget and use it for rent, utility bills, and basic groceries. Others pool the checks to buy a luxury item for the family, like a new ATV (an all terrain vehicle or four wheeler). To my daughter's dismay, we put the money immediately into a college savings account before we are tempted by the brilliant lure of Blue Ray and high definition. We are immediately met with a never-ending barrage of tales, however, about more fortunate schoolmates who are given their entire $1000+ dollars to spend freely as they wish. (I have yet to hear any such accounts firsthand from parents, however.)

While receiving $1305 for doing absolutely nothing sounds like a pretty good deal, many of us in the 49th state were disappointed with the news of this year's payment amount. Last year, the dividend payed to Alaskans reached a colossal $2069. To add even more sugar to an already lusciously sweet dessert,  Governor Sarah Palin added an extra state-funded $1200 per person to defray rising energy costs, leaving each Alaskan with a colossal $3296.

After ten years of feeling like an outsider, this year I finally feel like a true Alaskan because I find myself complaining about the "low" payment of $1305 for living in the most beautiful state in the union.


  1. Oh, how I miss the PFD!!!

    It's true, some parents let their kids have them. The first PFD was for 1000 bucks and my folks let me buy a Honda 185S three-wheeler with it. My brother purchased a ginormous VCR.

    I am going to call my mother and ask her why we were able to spend the PFD that year, because we weren't able to any other year.

  2. Gulp. I hope my daughter doesn't read your comment, Kellie!

  3. Don't think my first comment posted, so I'll try again. My husband and I just came back from an Alaskan cruise a few weeks ago, and visited Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. We are from hot south Texas, so we really enjoyed the cool air. We loved Alaska! We really want to go back in the near future, as we did not see much wildlife. Would have loved to have seen a moose. Could you tell us what month would be the best to visit Alaska to see plenty of wildlife.

  4. Welcome, Diane! While you can see lots of great sea life on an Alaskan cruise, it's hard to see moose or many of Alaska's other interesting mammalian and avian critters. The best way to see them is to travel just about anywhere in the interior of Alaska. People rave about Homer and the Kenai peninsula, but I personally like the stretch of Alaska from Whittier and Girdwood in the south, through Anchorage, and then stretching north to Palmer, Talkeetna, and, eventually, Denali National Park and Fairbanks.
    You can see moose just about ANY time of year and you have the best chance of seeing them in urban settings (because they really stand out with nothing to camouflage them). To see other critters, both late spring and late summer/early fall are the best times because the critters are either waking up from or preparing for winter and the trees have no leaves, giving you better visibility. It's also nice to stay put in an highly-trafficked critter area for a week and just sit back, relax, and wait for them. This past spring, we saw lots of moose, black bears with the cutest little cubs, porcupines, snowshoe hare, eagles, a wolf, and a lynx, all within five miles of our house in the hills. (Warning: While late spring is good for animal sightings, it is a nasty, ugly time of year up here know as "break up." The snow melts and everything turns to mud. Bleh!)
    Another good way to see wildlife in Alaska is to travel to Denali National Park, just a couple of hours drive south of Fairbanks. Very few vehicles are allowed into the park, but you can take the park bus pretty far back. Not only is it home to America's tallest mountain, but it is also a beautiful landscape, full of a variety of Alaska's flora and fauna.
    Hope this helps and hope you make it back to Alaska soon!