Alaska Senate calls for $1,000 additional PFD payment to tackle COVID-19 crisis

The Alaska Senate after voting to approve a $1,000 additional PFD payment, it would need to be approved by a conference committee. (03/23/20)
By  | 

JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Senate is calling for a $1,000 additional Permanent Fund dividend payment to be made as soon as possible to help curb the economic impacts of COVID-19.

The additional PFD is in the Senate’s current version of the operating budget and would need to be approved in a conference committee and signed by the governor before it is paid to eligible Alaskans.

The amendment was approved on a 12-7 vote.

The additional dividend, also called an economic stimulus payment by some members, would be separate to the traditional October PFD payment which the Senate has currently set at $1,000 per eligible Alaskan.

The additional dividend payment would cost roughly $680 million and would be drawn from the Earnings Reserve Account that collects earnings from the Permanent Fund.

Both $1,000 dividends are subject to change through further debate among lawmakers.

COVID-19 has hit Alaska’s finances hard, seeing oil prices plummet and the value of the Permanent Fund drop precipitously.

The Senate had robust discussions about how best to tackle the economic issues facing Alaska.

Some, like Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said that paying an additional PFD now may not be the most targeted way to use state resources in a time of economic crisis. “We need to be prudent,” Stedman said about spending the state’s dwindling finances.

Other senators stood and said that targeted wage replacement and payments for food may be more beneficial to help the neediest Alaskans, particularly as the additional PFD would be paid to every Alaskan, regardless of income.

A separate bill currently before the Senate Rules Committee would extend the governor’s 30-day coronavirus disaster declaration to Sept. 1. Some members stood and said that legislation could be the way to get additional economic stimulus payments out to Alaskans.

“This is not about want, it’s about need,” said Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, who introduced the $1,000 additional dividend amendment. Shower said businesses and Alaskans are struggling now and a stimulus payment needs to be made as soon as possible.

Some lawmakers said it wasn't sensible to wait for the US Congress to make economic stimulus payments.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, a long-time supporter of a full PFD, stood in support of an additional payment, asking, “If you believe the Permanent Fund is a rainy day fund, has it ever rained harder than this?”

Earlier Monday morning, the Senate rejected a roughly $1,300 supplemental dividend payment on a 9-10 vote.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved