PFD - Trips, art and saving accounts

Alaskans find many uses for their permanent fund dividend checks

Posted: Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Alaska Permanent Fund dividends won't be directly deposited into Alaska bank accounts until Wednesday, but many Alaskans already have plans on how to spend them.

Since the first PFD checks were released in 1982, Alaska residents have been able to share in the state's oil and mineral wealth. This year's check is $845.76. Longtime Alaskans who have received all 24 checks have banked a total of $24.775.45.

Many Alaskans save their checks, while others use them to splurge on luxury items. With the destruction left behind by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, some Alaskans may choose to donate their checks to charity.

This year 603,080 Alaskans will share in the roughly $558 million being distributed by the dividend program, and advertising campaigns have started as businesses try to get a piece through PFD specials. About 455,000 checks will be paid out as direct deposits on Oct. 12, with the checks by mail being sent out starting on Oct. 26.

Scott Goldsmith, an economics professor with the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research, has written extensively about the dividend program. But he said there's never been an audit to determine how the funds have been used, including how parents use their children's PFDs.

But in a 2002 presentation to an economics conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Goldsmith wrote that reasonable estimates can be made on how the checks are used. He wrote that most economists feel a large portion of the PFDs are spent when they're received and most go toward durable consumer goods, which produces "jobs and income in the trade and service sectors of the economy."

"Anecdotal evidence supports this notion with auto dealers, furniture and appliance stores and other durable goods retailers stepping up their advertising and marketing campaigns in the weeks prior to the annual distribution," Goldsmith wrote.

The travel sector also gets a big payoff from the checks, and in recent years Alaska Airlines has introduced a special PFD sale within a week after each year's check total is announced. Several travel agencies, the Alaska Marine Highway System and other airlines also have popular special dividend deals.

"In all the years, it's usually helps pay the bills. We're still paying on our house and we're always pretty sensible," said Harold Martin, a retired Juneau resident who has received all of the PFD checks. "But this year my wife and I are planning a trip. Friday (Sept. 30) is our 45th anniversary, and it's also my wife's birthday, so we thought we'd splurge this year."

Kevin Doyle, a Juneau bartender, also plans to take a trip with his girlfriend.

"We're taking a road trip to a concert in Lake Tahoe and then Las Vegas," Doyle said. "This my first one, so I'm going to go crazy with it. And next year's should be bigger."

Another Juneau resident who's received all of the previous PFD checks is Steve Pennoyer, who is a retired director of the National Marine Fisheries Services. Pennoyer said he hasn't decided how this year's check will be spent, but it probably will go for "something not very practical." He said he usually banks the checks, but he did use one to buy some artwork.

"I bought one of the Skip Wallen bear sculptures, and that's something I probably wouldn't have ever bought if I hadn't received a PFD check," Pennoyer said.

While many Alaskans who live in the cities use their dividend checks to splurge on luxuries, he said the PFD can be more important to residents in the Bush who live a subsistence lifestyle and don't have as many employment opportunities.

"It's found money for most people, particularly in the Bush. It (the PFD) provides cash for gasoline, ammunition and heating oil," Pennoyer said.

Sydney Mitchell recently opened a women's and children's shoe store (Shoe Fly) in downtown Juneau, and she said her PFD this year will go into savings.

"When you start a new business, it's nice to have a little money to fall back on," said Mitchell, who's received checks for all but about five years when she moved to northern California. "Some years I do and some years I don't spend it. I don't know if there's anything that really stands out, but I went to Arizona one year."

For Juneau-Douglas High School students Natalie Ward and Jenny Jones, their checks are earmarked for education. The PFD program has a college savings check-off option that's become popular in recent years.

"I'll save it for college," Jones said. "I used some of it for clothes one year."

"I don't have any choice, I have to save it," Ward said. "We've always saved it. Well, one year we used it (with other family checks) to pay for some property in Wyoming."

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