Lawmakers in the Alaska House are proposing a plan to pay Alaskans an additional $1,300 on top of the annual Permanent Fund dividend, lawmakers said Wednesday. The amount of this year’s regular dividend has not yet been set.
The “Energy Relief Check” would use some of the state’s unexpectedly high revenue this year to pay residents so they can offset rising fuel costs, record inflation and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers in the House majority said in a written statement.
“Between the negative economic effects of COVID and escalating energy costs, our residents are suffering,” said Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, in a statement. “With the influx of new revenue, we are in a position to provide an Energy Relief Check to Alaskans and that is exactly what the House Coalition intends to do.”
Alaska revenue officials are expecting hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue. The announcement came as crude oil prices surged amid the ongoing Russian assault on Ukraine, which could further enrich state coffers.
The plan would cost the state $875.1 million, according to Joe Plesha, communications director for the House majority.
Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, said rising oil prices have a double effect in Alaska.
“It’s two things. It’s the coffers — we’re going to get more money into the state — and people are going to feel that at the pump. So as we get more money and people are feeling the squeeze, we need to try to provide some relief for Alaskans,” Foster said.
This is not the first time lawmakers have proposed payments to Alaskans on top of the Permanent Fund dividend. In 2008, the Legislature, pushed by then-Gov. Sarah Palin, approved $1,200 “resource rebate” checks for Alaska residents as a way for the state to share some of its multibillion-dollar oil revenue surplus.
Foster said lawmakers were influenced by the 2008 program in coming up with the current plan. Like then, the payments would go to all Alaskans eligible for the Permanent Fund dividend. Eligibility would be based on the 2022 dividend and payments could come in a single lump sum, Foster added.
The 2021 dividend to Alaska residents was $1,114.
Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed in December using some of the surplus revenue to give out a $1,250 spring dividend on top of his proposal for a $2,564 2022 Permanent Fund dividend.
In a Twitter post, Dunleavy said the House coalition’s announcement is “better late than never.”
“For months now, I have been pointing out that rising oil prices are benefitting government finances but are hurting Alaskans,” Dunleavy wrote.
Independent governor candidate Bill Walker was quick to endorse the plan Wednesday.
“Alaskans are getting hammered by high energy costs. Oil prices are higher than they’ve been in over a decade. The calculation is easy: get help out the door,” Walker said in a statement.
Democratic governor candidate Les Gara endorsed the idea later in the day on social media, saying that “the House was right to announce an energy relief check.”