When Homer Simpson crossed the border into Alaska in the animated film, "The Simpsons Movie," the customs agent greeted him with a wad of cartoon cash in a poke at the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend check that Alaskans receive every year just for being a resident.
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In the 25 years since the first dividend check was sent out, Lower 48 residents have become aware of the program, intended to spread some of the oil wealth to the state's citizens. Some comments from outsiders show they've heard more rumors than facts. Others have a decent understanding it - at least enough to mock it in a Hollywood movie.
Today, the state delivers direct-deposit dividend checks to Alaskans who applied online. The amount of the dividend this year is $1,654.
At the Web site www.freelawanswer.com, people were asked "Is it true that you receive a check from the state of Alaska for only being a resident?"
Non-Alaskans answers included the following: "Yes, its true! You actually get paid about one grand a month or something like that." And, "Yes, it's true, a few thousand a year. But when you have to pay 10 bucks for a cheeseburger, you need all the help you can get."
When outsiders visit Alaska, the dividend is of one of the topics on their minds.
"The only thing I know about it is my girlfriend sent me an article in the paper recently - that each man, woman and child will get $1,600, and it's some kind of subsidy off the oil profits, and you have to be a resident for a year to qualify," said Debbie Van Horn, from Columbus, Ohio, while she was visiting her son in Juneau earlier this summer.
Van Horn said she supports Alaskans getting to keep some of the money that comes from state oil revenues.
"Alaska has all the oil, right? We're using it and dispersing it throughout the United States," she said. "I guess they should benefit from it somehow."
Sam Jackson from Annapolis, Md., visiting on the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy, said he'd heard about the permanent fund dividend from other Coast Guard personnel.
"I know it's very popular for people in the Coast Guard who've been stationed in Alaska to change their permanent residency to Alaska. And I think (the PFD) has something to do with it," he said.
Though many outsiders say they would appreciate having the extra cash every year, some are concerned with the overall effect of the state giving money away.
Bryson Jacobs from California, also visiting on the Healy, said he wanted to do more research on the subject.
"Could that money be used for anything else around the state, like road paving, building bridges or anything like that? Is it depleting state funds? I personally wouldn't mind getting a $1,600 check, but what I like may not always be best for the rest of society," he said.
Melissa Nelson, a retired administrator visiting from Strasburg, Va., said it made sense to give the money back to the people.
"The only reason it would be good to give it to the legislators to spend is if the infrastructure wasn't working, if the schools were totally pathetic, and there were huge amounts of things you need to do to public service," she said. "But if you're satisfying more than the basic needs, as far as schools, fire service, health care, whatever it is you need to service, then, no, it makes a lot more sense to give it back to the people because it actually helps the economy."
The Simpsons didn't stay long in Alaska. They returned to the Lower 48 after experiencing some of the cold weather, deep snow and harsh isolation, which, in the end, overrode even the lure of a big wad of cash.
Teri Tibbett is a writer living in Juneau.
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