Permanent fund division to check up on applicants

Posted: Tuesday, July 11, 2000

ANCHORAGE -- The Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Division will do random checks of 700 dividend applications this summer to screen out those who are not eligible for the program.

It marks the first time the agency has done random checks to protect the program from fraud, said Nanci Jones, division director.

The division each year denies about 20,000 ineligible applicants. The random checks will focus on the 550,000 applicants who are routinely approved each year.

The state's oil wealth savings account has paid out dividends since 1982. Last year's payment of $1,769 was the largest ever.

``Out of almost 600,000 applications, I've got to believe that there are some people who aren't telling the whole truth,'' said Larry Persily, deputy commissioner of the Department of Revenue.

Persily said he suspects some of the applicants may have moved out of the state, but are still receiving dividends.

``People who don't live here year 'round anymore, but still think of themselves as Alaskans and feel entitled to a dividend -- in their minds they're not really cheating, but according to the rules of the program they are,'' Persily said.

Letters are going out in the mail this week to about 700 applicants selected at random. Those who receive the letters will be asked to verify their residency.

``I'm sure some people will be offended by the fact that they've been selected, but it doesn't mean that you've been accused, just that your number came up,'' Persily said.

The agency has hired two attorneys and a retired state consumer protection investigator to conduct the spot checks. They will cross-check applicants against employer records with the state Department of Labor, drivers license and motor vehicle registration lists, voter registration records, vital statistics and other records.

``If we look and there's no employment record for you and maybe you don't have a driver's license, we're going to wonder where you are,'' Persily said.

The project will cost about $35,000.

Jones said she thinks the division is doing a good job of reviewing first-time applicants and those from Alaskans who are absent from the state for a period of time. But she wants to know how well it is screening for applicants who may have moved out of state but continue to apply for the dividend with their old Alaska address.

The cross-checks will also involve retirement communities in Washington and Arizona.

``We're hoping the number will be insignificant,'' Jones said. ``We're hoping it doesn't even equal one half of 1 percent of applicants.''

The random checks are expected to be completed by late summer or early fall, before dividends are paid out in October.

The results will help agency officials determine if they need to make changes to the questions on the dividend application or do more frequent random checks.

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