EXPECT DELAYS – Lines of traffic move slowly down Sawmill Creek Road today as a repaving project progresses near the Indian River bridge. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

PFD Checks Smaller But Can Be Big Help

By MARK THIESSEN
 
The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE (AP) — Downtown Anchorage street musician Cal Austermuhl had good reason to be singing the blues Wednesday, the same day the state of Alaska began distributing $992 checks that will be paid to nearly every resident.

“Mine’s already spent,” he said of his share of the state’s oil wealth fund. “It goes to outstanding bills.”

Austermuhl relies on performances at bars and markets and tips from summer tourists to supplement his income. But amid coronavirus concerns this year, that’s a tough proposition.

As he sang a Jeff Healy Band ballad, a few people donning masks dropped dollars into his guitar case. Otherwise the streets were nearly empty after most cruise ship companies canceled their summer season, eliminating nearly half of the vacation plans for the 2.2 million tourists that annually visit Alaska.

The oil-wealth check, which some in Alaska see as an entitlement, typically is derived from the earnings of a nest-egg investment account the state has seeded with oil money. The fund was established during construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline in the 1970s. 

This year’s check was paid in part using a separate savings account.

Residents received the first check, $1,000, in 1982. Amounts have varied over the years, and traditionally were calculated on a five-year rolling average to buffer downturns in the economy. 

This is the smallest check since $900 was paid in 2013. The biggest check was $2,072 in 2015. The following year, amid a budget deficit, then-Gov. Bill Walker reduced by roughly half the amount available for checks, leaving the rest in the fund’s earnings in reserve. 

Since then, the size of the check has been set by lawmakers, who in 2018 began using some of the fund’s earnings to help pay government costs. Lawmakers also passed a law seeking to limit withdrawals from earnings, heightening tension between how much should be used on dividends and how much should go to state government as the deficit persists.

Some lawmakers worry that if the Legislature takes too much from the earnings reserve, it could imperil future dividends.

The size of the dividend has become a political issue. Checks this year would have been about $3,060 if the calculation had been followed. 

“I think that sucks,” James Grim said as he wiped down his red 1968 Pontiac Catalina convertible at an Anchorage car wash. “It wasn’t set up for the government to get their hands on it. It was set up for the people of Alaska.”

Regardless of the check size, dividend day is a big one for Alaska retailers. “We direct deposited $512,474,838.56 today. Paper checks also went out, for a total payment amount of $592,360,237.82,” Anne Weske, the director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Division, said in an email to The Associated Press.

Some residents use the money for new toys, like big screen televisions or new snowmobiles, and others fund college savings accounts for children or donate to charities. Other residents, especially those in rural Alaska villages off the road system, use the money to pay high fuel bills or help supplement food items at grocery stores, where staples like milk can go for $10 a gallon.

The checks are normally distributed in early October, but this year Gov. Mike Dunleavy moved the distribution date up to help provide relief amid the economic fallout of the coronavirus. The dividend also comes a day after the expiration of a mandate from the Legislature that prevented automobile repossession and evictions for not paying rent.

“It’s a nice little shot,” said Mike Miller, a bartender at Flattop Pizza in downtown Anchorage. “I think it’s cool that they decided to give it early this year, you know, because of what’s going on.”

He was luckier than most, receiving extended unemployment benefits. His partner was an essential employee as a case manager at a women’s shelter.

But now that he’s back to work, the benefits are ending and there just aren’t the customers around to make up that cash flow.

“The people just aren’t downtown,” he said noting that includes tourists and office employees still working from their homes.

“When the dividend checks come in, you know, everybody’s a thousandaire for a couple few days,” he said, standing in an empty restaurant during what would typically be the noon rush hour. “And a lot of time, like me, they’re going to go spend it at the bar. Fingers crossed, we get a little hit from that.”

 

August 5, 2020

A Note To Our Readers

Reopening: Phase One:

 

On March 30 the Daily Sitka Sentinel began taking precautions against the coronavirus, which was starting to show up in Alaska.

We closed our building to the public and four key employees started working remotely. Home delivery was suspended to protect our carriers from exposure to the virus.

Four months later, the virus is still with us and the precautions remain in effect.

In appreciation for the willingness of our subscribers to pick up their daily paper at drop-off sites, the Sentinel was free to all readers, and subscriptions were extended without charge.

As of August 1 the Sentinel is once again charging for subscriptions, but the present method of having subscribers pick up their papers at designated sites will continue.

The expiration date of all subscriptions has been extended without charge for an additional four months.

We thank our readers for their support in these uncertain times, and especially those who paid for the paper despite the free offer.

We look forward to the time when we can safely resume home delivery.

To check on the expiration of your subscription or to make a payment please call 747-3219. The subscription email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We also will be mailing out reminder cards.

The single copy price is again 75 cents. The news racks do not require coins to open, but we ask that the 75 cents for a non-subscription single copy sale be paid with coins in the slot.

– The Sitka Sentinel Staff

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 8-7-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 11:20 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 53

Total statewide – 3,536

Total (cumulative) deaths – 25

Active cases in Sitka – 20 (14 resident; 6 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 15 (11 resident; 4 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 141.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

* These numbers reflect State of Alaska data. Local cases may not immediately appear on DHSS site, or are reported on patient’s town of residence rather than Sitka’s statistics. 

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20 YEARS AGO
August 2000

High prices for chum salmon, low pink returns, and record numbers of fish in Deep Inlet have turned the Sitka fishing grounds into Route 66 this summer. “Overall it’s been a fantastic season so far,” said Steve Reifenstuhl, operations manager for the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association.

50 YEARS AGO
August 1970

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Ireney, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, will head a gathering of Orthodox prelates from North American and abroad in ceremonies canonizing the first American Orthodox saints, Father Herman of Alaska. A group of Sitkans will fly to Kodiak for the event.

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