Alaska dividend applicants increase

PFD director says big pay-outs could explain rapid rise in recipients

Posted: Monday, September 28, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Alaska Permanent Fund dividend applications rose this year and may again be outpacing the state's population growth.

The dividend this year, paid to every eligible Alaskan who applies, will be $1,305.

Roughly 628,000 people are eligible for a dividend this year, 12,285 more people than received a dividend last year.

Last year, 16,072 more people received a dividend than the year before, the biggest surge in a decade and roughly three times the increase in state's population.

So far, no one can explain this trend.

Permanent Fund Division director Debbie Bitney said one factor could be the recent increase in the size of the pay-outs, prompting eligible Alaskans who had not bothered applying in the past to sign up.

Economists questioned by the Anchorage Daily News said the increase is a puzzle.

Alaska Department of Labor economist Neal Fried suggested the trend may be connected to the military. State records showed a 35 percent increase in military applicants last year.

State data also showed an increase by about 17 percent of Alaskans who said they were absent more than 90 days when they filed for the dividend last year.

There also could be fraud or people stretching the eligibility criteria.

The increase in applicants is not tied to a flood of newcomers or first-time applicants.

The PFD division keeps an exact count of first-time applicants. While tens of thousands of new applicants file each year, the overall level of first-time applications does not fluctuate much.

In 2008, roughly 1,000 more first-time applicants applied than in 2007. That accounted for only 3 percent of the 16,072 additional dividends mailed out in 2008.

Pinning down PFD trends can be difficult. The numbers fluctuate because of appeals.

For example, any eligible Alaskan over 18 can apply to receive a past dividend that a parent failed to apply for, Bitney said.

For now, local economists say the recent run-up in dividends is a mystery.

"The population increase has been gradual. That's why I was surprised," said Susan Fison, an Anchorage economist and demographer.

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