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Episode 21: What will you do with your PFD?

By KTVA Alaska 6:09 PM September 20, 2015

Editor’s note: We received a call from a viewer regarding the story in this episode about a duck hunt in Bethel claiming it is illegal to shoot waterfowl from a moving boat. We did some research and discovered it is against state regulations to shoot waterfowl from a motorized, moving boat.  The state of Alaska’s sport hunting regulations go into effect September 1. Additionally, the Alaska Migratory
Bird Co-Management Council website has regulations on the spring and summer subsistence harvest.

Soon, the TV, radio and newspaper ads will be battling for a share of your Permanent Fund Dividend check.

With a predicted fat payout of over $2,000, the words are on the lips of just about every Alaskan: What will you do with all the money?

On Facebook, I got a mix of answers to that question. They were sort of the inspiration for this week’s show.

Alice Aga, a Kodiak teacher’s aide: “Last year, new wood stove, new chainsaw and Amazon.”

John McDonald, a Bethel tour guide operator: “We pay our electric, city utilities and our oil bill for the next year. Then we have less monthly bills.”

Renae Zackar from Igiugig: “I guess the only thing I’ve invested my PFD in is food for my kids to grow up on — and clothes and shoes and heating oil. In other words, spent sometimes even before it hits the bank.”

Mary Brown, Goodnews Bay City Administrator: “I always assign mine to housing, which helps me. That way, I don’t have to worry about getting evicted and can just focus on my other bills.”

Tom Bowerman, Anchorage teacher:  “I’m using mine for a birthday/Christmas trip to Chicago to see the Blackhawks play during Christmas break!!!”

There were some other interesting responses – a woman whose family is pooling their dividends to start a baby-food company.

An Alaska Native woman also wrote about how she is not only saving her daughter’s PFDs for college but also her Native corporation dividends.

One of those who responded, Robin Hopper, an Eagle River music teacher, allowed us to profile her family. She and her husband, Bruce, put every one of their son and daughter’s dividends aside for college. Today, they’re grown. On our show, we’ll show you how the PFD has made a difference in their lives, as well as the lives of others.

Photojournalist John Thain and web writer Hope Miller went to Bethel to get a sense of how Rural Alaskans spend their dividends. One common answer: to maintain the tradition of hunting and gathering wild foods, which requires boats, motors and guns, as well as fuel.

Since the PFD is based on a five-year rolling average of earnings, it’s possible we could see fat checks for the next two years.

Our featured guest this week is Garret Wong, an Anchorage financial planner who deals with big investors — but we asked Garret to scale things down for us and calculate what we would have saved, if we had invested every PFD from 1982, when the program first began paying dividends. It’s a pretty amazing number.

Garret also offers strategies for investing your PFD, even if you live paycheck-to-paycheck.

Valerie Mertz, the acting director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, joins us on the program to give us a brief PFD 101 overview.

The bulk of the earnings come from the fund’s investments. You’ll be surprised at what our Permanent Fund Corporation owns.

The concept of the PFD was on the frontiers of economic thinking, when Alaska began sharing its oil wealth with its citizens. Today, it remains a grand social experiment that could be in for some changes, as the state wrestles with multi-billion-dollar budget gaps in the coming years.

We hope this week’s edition of Frontiers gives you an appreciation of this uniquely Alaskan institution.

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