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Dividend filing deadline brings rush of applicants

Division offices close at 4:30 p.m. today, applications accepted online until 11:59 p.m.

Posted: March 30, 2011 - 8:46pm  |  Updated: March 31, 2011 - 5:26am
Alaskans pick up and turn in Permanent Fund Dividend applications at the Department of Revenue office in the State Office Building Wednesday. Thursday (today) is the last day to turn in applications to receive 2011 dividend checks next October.   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Alaskans pick up and turn in Permanent Fund Dividend applications at the Department of Revenue office in the State Office Building Wednesday. Thursday (today) is the last day to turn in applications to receive 2011 dividend checks next October.

The Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Division is expecting a record number of applications as Alaskans line up to collect a their share of the earnings on the state’s oil wealth.

These days, however, there’s little lining up. In the early days of the dividend, such as 1982’s check for $1,000 for every Alaskan, applications were on paper and were delivered by mail or in person.

Alaskans have since adopted technology in a big way.

“Eighty percent of applications now come through the online system,” said Debbie Bitney, director of the division.

That’s something the state has encouraged as a cost-saving measure, but Alaska non-profits are also pushing online filing aggressively.

That’s because the state’s Pick. Click. Give. donation program can only be done online, Bitney said.

Online filing may be an attractive option for late filers, said Dan DeBartolo, the division’s operations manager.

While paper applications are only accepted until the division’s offices close at 4:30 p.m. today, they’re accepted online until 11.59 p.m.

DeBartolo said March 31 is traditionally the highest single day for paper filers, with March 30 second.

Last year there were 15,937 paper applications filed on March 31, and 7,103 on March 30.

While DeBartolo said they’ll know almost immediately the total number of online applications, the flood of paper applications take longer.

“Sometimes we don’t open those for maybe three weeks,” he said.

And if electronic applications are popular, electronic payments are even more popular. Last year 85 percent of applicants chose to receive their checks by direct deposit, DeBartolo said.

Hoping to save processing and printing costs, the division once encouraged that by issuing direct deposit PFDs weeks ahead of the mailed checks, but no longer used that incentive.

The total number of applicants is important, because it is one of two primary numbers that decide the dividend amount.

The other is the not-yet-set amount that the Alaska Permanent Fund will earn in the fiscal year ending June 30.

A portion of the average earnings of the last five years will make up the dividend amount, which will be divided by the total number of eligible applicants to set this year’s dividend amount.

Last year’s amount was $1,281, with the record amount in 2008 of $3,269. The 2008 check included a $1,200 “resource rebate” after the state reaped a windfall with high oil prices.

A portions of the state’s royalty oil goes to the Alaska Permanent Fund, but the dividend are provide from profits — after inflation proofing — from the fund, not the oil money itself.

With that much money at stake, Bitney said the division was aggressive at seeking out fraudulent applications.

About 25,000 applications are likely to be denied for a variety of reasons, such as too much time outside Alaska.

This year the division began auditing addresses, and has used that information to deny fraudulent applications.

Bitney gave an example to a legislative committee of a two-bedroom house with 37 applications.

The dividend forms require an address as a way of preventing fraud, she said.

“We don’t require you to have a physical address in order to get a dividend,” she said, but they want to know where applicants live.

“If you say you live under a bridge — which we have had — we take that information,” Bitney said.

Last year PFD criminal investigators investigated hundreds of allegations of fraud, and recovered more than half a million dollars in improperly paid dividends.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.

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