Legislature weighs dividends for the dead

Bill would allow people who die halfway through year to apply for PFD

Posted: Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Alaskans who look forward to their Permanent Fund Dividends may soon be able to qualify even after they're dead.

The Alaska Legislature is considering allowing people who die at least halfway through their qualifying year to apply for dividends despite their death.

An heir or representative would have to handle the filing duties, as is currently done for people who survive the qualifying year but die before submitting the application form.

Bill sponsor Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said his bill recognizes that most Alaskans who died before becoming eligible for a dividend would have stayed in Alaska.

"You would have continued to live in Alaska, but unfortunately you died," Meyer said of the possible dividend recipients.

Currently, state law requires living in Alaska for an entire qualifying year before being eligible for a dividend.

Under Meyer's proposal an application could be made on behalf of someone who had lived in Alaska for at least 180 days immediately before their death. They would also have to have received a dividend the previous year in order to be eligible.

Rep. Mike Doogan said the change in law would eliminate the requirement that the Permanent Fund Dividend Division somehow determine the intent of the deceased.

"If you can do that, aren't you in the wrong line of work," he asked Debbie Bitney, director of the PFD division.

Meyer's proposal unanimously passed in the Alaska Senate last year and is now being considered by the House Finance Committee.

Juneau had no senator when the bill passed the Senate; in the House Rep. Beth Kerttula is its sole co-sponsor. She was unavailable for comment Monday.

Katy Neher of Anchorage said allowing one last dividend for some of the state's deceased would be fair.

"As it currently stands, this law is a wrong that needs fixing," she said.

Neher said her daughter, Melissa, was 16 years old when she died but was denied a final PFD. Now, the ConocoPhillips Co. employee is seeking a change in the law in memory of her daughter.

"Although this change won't affect my daughter Melissa's last PFD or other Alaskans who have been denied their final PFD it will affect those in the future," Neher said.

Kasilof resident Bob Okamoto died in 2008 and his wife, Carol, told the Peninsula Clarion newspaper she was distressed to find that he was not eligible for a dividend.

"It negated his whole life that year," she told the paper. "It just doesn't make sense. He deserves it."

PFD Division Director Bitney estimated 3,500 Alaskans die in a typical year, and half of those would be eligible for a dividend if the law changed.

Last year the state reviewed about 657,000 applications, of which 628,499 were approved. The additional applications, if the bill passed, would be a quarter of a percent increase. At last year's dividend amount of $1,305, that would have amounted to an additional $2,283,750 in divident payments.

Bitney estimated an additional cost of $86,000 to the division if the bill becomes law, including one new employee to process applications and contractual services for processing an estimated 100 appeals per year. Both amounts come out of the total dividend payment amount, meaning that it would slightly reduce other's checks.

Bitney said each of the additional applications would take extra time to process, including new tasks such as examining death certificates.

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said all the new applicants probably wouldn't lead to ongoing fraud.

"If they screw with us, they're only going to do it once," he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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