Fewer Alaskans sign up online for Permanent Fund dividend

  • By Rachel D'oro
  • Saturday, April 2, 2016 10:10pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — Fewer people signed up online for this year’s Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, and fewer residents have chosen to donate a portion of their payout to charities around the state, officials said Friday, speculating that a perceived vulnerability of the fund could have discouraged some people to apply.

For this year’s dividend from Alaska’s oil savings account, 662,046 Alaskans signed up online or by mail by Thursday’s deadline, with online applications down by more than 14,000. The total number of applications is expected to grow as remaining mail arrives.

Sara Race, director of the Permanent Fund Dividend Division, said the agency receives about 27,000 pieces of associated mail after the deadline, but a big chunk of those are typically paperwork associated with applications already filled out online.

“The number of timely postmarked applications that will be received within this mail is unknown,” she said in an email.

Last year, 672,741 Alaskans successfully signed up for the 2015 dividend, which was a record $2,072.

Also down is charitable giving, with online applicants pledging slightly more than $3 million of their dividends to nonprofits through the program “Pick. Click. Give,” compared with last year’s total of $3.3 million. People have until Aug. 31 to pledge a piece of their dividends, however.

In the latest round of applications, 29,543 residents opted to give part of their dividend to nonprofits through the charitable program. That’s over 4,000 fewer donors than in 2015. But program manager Jason Grenn said the average pledge this year is $108, compared with last year’s $100 average.

“We’re really encouraged that people are still giving at this rate,” he said.

Race and Grenn speculated that public perceptions that the fund is vulnerable could be a factor in the lower figures. Alaska lawmakers are considering the use of fund earnings to help pay for state government costs during the state’s fiscal crisis amid low oil prices. The earnings reserve is the same pot of money from which dividends come.

One proposal would guarantee a minimum $1,000-a-year dividend. Another from Gov. Bill Walker calls for a $1,000 dividend the first year and after that would be based on a portion of state resource royalties.

Race said sign-ups over the years have seemed to correlate with what people project the amount to be more than population fluctuations.

“We don’t know what the dividend amount is right now, obviously, but it’s kind of the speculation of it,” she said. “And that potentially could be very much a part of the conversation right now.”

Or perhaps some people simply forgot to apply, an oversight that occurs each year, Race said.

Associated Press writer Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, contributed to this report.

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