Alaska News

Why some Alaskans don't apply for the PFD

On Thursday, the state of Alaska will send checks for $1,884 dollars into the bank accounts of this year's 598,917 successful Permanent Fund dividend applicants.

According to state statistics and the most recent population projections, more than 90 percent of Alaskans applied for the dividend this year.

But what about those who don't apply? Why turn down a check that can pay for a new sofa set, a couple of tickets to Hawaii, the beginning of a college savings account or a snowmachine?

People have their reasons.

One of those people is Paul Tickett.

Tickett was raised in Shungnak, in the Northwest Arctic. He served in the U.S. Army, doing a tour of duty in Iraq. He let his PFD application lapse for some years he was in the military. Now, he's back in Alaska, working at the Red Dog Mine. Public records show he did not apply for a PFD in 2014.

"I just don't apply every year," he wrote in an email.


Tickett said he receives free health care from the Alaska Native Medical Center and other health care benefits as a veteran. He also has received dividends as a NANA Regional Corp. shareholder.

"Kinda makes me think of how lucky we are here to receive all of these things free. I mean there are millions of people out there that don't get free health care, don't receive a dividend of some sort. So I think to myself, why do I really deserve it?" he wrote. "Maybe I have too much pride in me to apply anymore, don't really know."

Meghan Wieten-Scott's family qualifies for the PFD under rules about military families stationed in Alaska. But they choose not to apply to preserve their status as Michigan voters.

"We have chosen to keep our home of record in Michigan," she wrote. "We plan to return to Michigan after our time in the Army, and we think it is important to vote where we plan to live. We don't feel it's right to simply change our residency for a short period of time to just make some extra money. It feels like selling our vote to us."

When Alaska Dispatch News asked readers to share their tales of PFD refusal, many responded with stories about exes who've forgone the dividend to keep money that would be garnished by the state for unpaid child support.

Other eligible applicants don't file for reasons that involve trying to get out of something -- such as jury duty.

Alaska jurors are drawn from the pool of adult dividend applicants. In Anchorage, Superior Court judges often jokingly admonish prospective jurors that if they don't want to do jury duty, they shouldn't apply for a PFD.

The Alaska Permanent Fund comes from a 1979 amendment to the state constitution. The fund receives money from the state's share of oil revenues but is managed like a large investment fund. It generates income from a diverse portfolio of holdings in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and real estate.

Finding people who flatly refuse to apply for the PFD because they disapprove of its connections to oil development or the fund's current investments -- which include stock in companies such as Monsanto, British American Tobacco, ExxonMobil and Anheuser-Busch -- is much harder.

Rick Steiner, a retired UAA marine biology professor who is now an environmental consultant and activist, said he has been getting and giving away the PFD since its inception, signing the first $1,000 check over the to the "quite surprised" and "delighted" staff of the Alaska Center for the Environment in 1982.

Steiner takes issue with some of the fund's current investments, which he considers unethical.

"I sort of figure (applying and giving most or all away) is the most environmentally responsible approach, as otherwise the money is simply left with the (Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.)," he wrote.

Brandon Hill, an Anchorage freelance photographer, videographer and graphic designer who moved to Alaska from Maine three years ago, will receive his first PFD this year. He considered saying "no thanks" because of his feelings about corporations involved in fossil fuel extraction. To him, the money feels like a bribe, he said.

"(Oil companies) are actively buying our approval and silence during an era of growing resistance to fossil fuels," he wrote.

"So why did I consider not taking? Because it feels dirty to accept a bribe," he said. "But why did I take it? Because who, in a country where the richest one percent own more than the bottom 90 percent, can afford not to? Also, I'm 28 years old and faced with the largest disaster of student debts this nation has ever seen."

Hill, and 598,916 others Alaskans, will be $1,884 richer Thursday.

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.