Alaskans bank on annual oil dividend

$1,305: Fuel, power bills, home necessities top PFD shopping lists.

September 23, 2009 

Evans Thomas Jr. and his neighbors know exactly how they're spending their dividend checks of $1,305 for being Alaskans -- not on new toys or vacations, but on warming their homes come winter in a village situated just below the Arctic Circle.

"Everybody is talking about their fuel bills, their light bills," said Thomas, who has lived his entire 47 years in the Inupiat Eskimo village of Buckland, population less than 500. "When the dividend comes, that's when people catch up with their bills."

Thomas is among the almost 658,000 Alaska men, women and children who will receive the payout this year in the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, to be distributed in October.

The amount -- announced Wednesday by Gov. Sean Parnell -- is nowhere near the size of last year's bounty from the state's oil royalty investment program.

Residents, who must live in Alaska one calendar year to qualify, received $2,069 in 2008. Dividends were combined with a special energy relief payment of $1,200, bringing last year's individual total payout to $3,269.

Payments were reduced because investment earnings allocated to the annual dividends are based on a five-year average of fund performance, which was weak last year because of the economic downturn. Before last year, dividend payments ranged from $331 in 1984 to $1,963 in 2000.

Basics also take precedence over luxuries when it comes to dividend expenditures in Kotlik on Alaska's western coast, said Courtney Trammell, the 27-year-old manager of a grocery store there.

"A lot of folks are getting things like mattresses, couches, kitchen ranges -- home necessities," he said.

In the whaling village of Nuiqsut, Isaac Nukapigak plans to spend his dividend on the basics of survival in a place where gasoline can top $9 a gallon. His dividend will help pay for heating fuel, he said.

Job opportunities are limited in the North Slope community and though some residents commute to the oil fields in the region, many can't afford to leave families who rely on subsistence hunting for much of their food, according to Nukapigak, a 52-year-old whaling captain.

The village of 400 depends on the whaling crews such as his that provide tons of meat from the sea. This year, two bowhead whales were caught.

Some people, however, can't help but splurge around dividend time, at least in Anchorage, where car dealers and retailers lure buyers with big "PFD" deals.

Such offers aren't necessary at Michael's Jewelers, a family-owned shop established 40 years ago in Alaska's largest city. Come dividend time, business jumps at least 30 percent, according to Mindi Robuck, who runs the store.

"A couple of people have mentioned they'll see me around PFD time," said Robuck, who has her own dividend plans. "I think it will go into my kitchen, probably on granite counters."

The fund was established in 1976 after North Slope oil was discovered. Including the upcoming dividends, the fund has since yielded $17.35 billion to Alaskans since the first payout of $1,000 in 1982, according to the state Revenue Department.

That's not including the energy relief money, which alone totaled $730 million.

The payout of this year's dividends is scheduled for Oct. 8 for 520,000 applicants who requested direct deposit. Checks will be mailed starting Oct. 22.

Anchorage Daily News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service