Alaska residents will get annual oil royalty dividend of $1,654 each
JUNEAU, Alaska: Nearly every Alaskan will soon receive a check for $1,654 (€1,183), their share of the state's oil riches, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin announced.
The dividend checks are derived from the state's oil royalty investment program and distributed each year to eligible residents — just for living here for a full calendar year.
Slightly more than 600,000 men, women and children in 248 communities will receive the dividend this year, according to the Revenue Department. The state's estimated population is just over 670,000 people.
Anyone who has lived in Alaska for a full calendar year can apply for the money — including children. Of those receiving checks this year, about 41 percent — or 244,695 of the state's residents — were born in Alaska.
"I want you guys to invest this wisely," Palin told the large crowd that gathered Wednesday for the announcement of this year's dividend in Valdez, the terminus of the state's 800-mile (1,287-kilometer) trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
It is a perk that separates Alaska from the rest of the U.S. and was recently parodied in "The Simpsons Movie," which prominently features the television cartoon family's journey to Alaska.
The movie depicts Alaska almost as a separate country. As Homer Simpson crosses the border with Canada, he's greeted by a customs agent who says, "Welcome to Alaska," then hands Homer a wad of cash, saying every Alaskan gets a stack of bills so oil companies can exploit the environment.
But for many residents, the check is no joke.
It means getting caught up on bills and supplementing income that for some is a week-to-week living in Alaska, where the cost of living is high due in part because of its distance from shipping centers in other parts of the United States.
In Galena, a town of 600 residents located 250 miles (400 kilometers) west of Fairbanks, air taxi pilot Colin Brown pilot said the money will help cover rising fuel costs that have beset the state's isolated rural villages. Brown says he pays about $4.70 for a gallon of gasoline, about $2 per gallon more than national average, according to the Energy Department's most recent data.
Others use the bonus to supplement their subsistent lifestyles.
"A lot of times village people will spend it on fishnets to renew their equipment that's worn out," he said.
The state established the Alaska Permanent Fund in 1976 after North Slope oil was discovered. Dividends have been paid since 1982, ranging from $331 to a record high of $1,963 in 2000. Last year's dividend check was $1,106.
The fund is valued at a near-record $38.7 billion (€27.69 billion), with total returns at 17.1 percent in the fiscal year that ended June 30. In the last fiscal year, the fund earned $622,000 an hour.
Dividend totals are not directly tied to the fund's total value or robust oil prices, said fund spokeswoman Laura Achee. Oil prices, which topped $80 a barrel this week, can boost the fund's principal, but the money must be invested. Payouts then get calculated on a five-year average of investment income.
The fund's stock investments include high-profile brands such as Pepsico Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc., along with North Slope oil producers Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and BP PLC.
More than $15.2 billion (€10.88 billion) has been distributed to eligible residents since the dividend program began, five years after oil began flowing in the state's pipeline 30 years ago.
If a resident has received a check every year since the first was issued in 1982, their total take in the program would be $27,536.
On the Net:
Alaska Permanent Fund: http://www.pfd.state.ak.us