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Alaska PFD: Oil wealth dividend will help federal workforce

Craig Medred

Furloughed federal employees in Alaska have 900 more reasons to give thanks for the Great Land. By luck of timing, the government shutdown came just as the Alaska Permanent Fund dividends – worth exactly $900 this year – are disbursed. Direct deposits and physical checks will be issued starting Oct. 3.

Known to all Alaskans as PFDs, the annual payout represents every Alaskan’s portion of the oil riches found beneath the North Slope. The idea of the late Gov. Jay Hammond and cronies circa 1980, the universal, socialist-style payments to everyone living in the state have been embraced by every governor since, including self-proclaimed "common-sense conservative" Sarah Palin.

Annual disbursements from the earnings of the oil-weath-funded "permanent fund," the checks have varied over the years from a low of $331.29 in 1984 to a maximum of $2,069 when Palin was governor in 2008. She also convinced the Alaska Legislature to that year add in another $1,200 per Alaska as an energy rebate.

Since 2008, payouts have been only a fraction of that $3,269 bonanza. They have varied from $1,305 to $878 over the last several years. The only real hurdle to collecting a PFD is surviving a winter.

The hardest and only qualification for the dividend is that you live a full year on the ground in the north. Alaska charities now actively recruit for donations of the free money, and while charitable giving has been on the upswing in recent years, about 95 percent of Alaskans still take the cash.

For those at the top of the federal pay scale in Alaska -- the scale's average salary is $73,368 -- the $900 dividend this year might not mean much, but to those closer to the bottom it could ease the family cash flow if the government shut down drags on.

"It does (help)," said Graham Predeger, an avalanche ranger for the U.S. Forest Service in Girdwood. "This is going to be the first one I've gotten in several years."

Predeger grew up in Anchorage, went to school Outside, lost his Alaskan status when he went to work for the Forest Service in Colorado, and eventually managed to maneuver his way back to the North.

Now married, he is starting a third-generation of Predegers in the 49th state. He has a daughter almost a year old. With family responsibilities, it's always nice to have extra cash, but Predeger -- like many federal employees in the state -- didn't seem overly worried about the infighting in Washington, D.C.

At least not yet.

"We're going back," he said. "It's only a matter of time."

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