Anchorage substance abuse rises after PFD payments, ISER finds
A new Anchorage study on the effects of Permanent Fund dividends includes a look at how its disbursement affects crime rates in Alaska’s largest city.
The University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research report on the dividend’s effects was released Friday. It breaks down Anchorage Police Department data on crime in the four weeks following dividend payments spanning from 2000 to 2016, when its average amount was $1,600.
“Substance-abuse incidents increased 14 percent the day after the payment and lowered to a 10 percent increase above average over the following four weeks,” ISER officials wrote. “Property crime decreased 8 percent during that time and the percent of violent crime did not change.”
Asked about the substance-abuse finding, Anchorage Fire Department Assistant Chief Erich Scheunemann said he hasn’t recalled “any spikes in any particular incident type” including fire or medical responses, in the wake of recent years’ dividends.
“Looking back to January 1, 2016, when I began to track substances of abuse more closely, as a month, October has ranked [ninth, 20th and 29th] out of 37 total months reviewed for methamphetamine, Spice, and opioid/heroin (when treated with naloxone) use,” Scheunemann wrote in an email.
APD spokeswoman Kendra Doshier said Friday that police do not put additional officers on duty in response to dividend distributions, as they do for several major holidays during the year. The department didn't immediately have further statistical breakdowns on the dividend available Friday.
ISER staff poised the study as a new piece of research on the hotly debated premise of a universal basic income, under which governments would pay all citizens a minimum amount of money on which to live.
The concept of universal basic income has been around for centuries, according to the New Yorker, as a counter to desperate poverty. Critics have claimed that paying a flat amount to all people encourages spending beyond their means, but the idea has found traction in the U.S. among both Democrats and Republicans in recent years.
In its latest test, Finnish researchers found that paying a monthly income of 560 euros – or just under $633 – to about 2,000 unemployed people nationwide increased recipients’ sense of well-being. The money had negligible effects on their employment rates, however, according to Wired magazine.
Alaska’s Permanent Fund dividend has a place in the wider debate, according to ISER economist Mouhcine Guettabi, as one of the world’s closest functioning examples to a universal basic income.
“The PFD is a rare opportunity to learn about the behavioral effects of a Universal Basic Income program,” Guettabi said in an ISER statement. “We are also in the process of evaluating the effect of the PFD on childhood obesity and labor market activity. With additional financial support, there is a real opportunity to develop a nationally recognized program at ISER that informs the national debate on the merits of a UBI program.”
The dividend isn’t truly universal in Alaska, due to its eligibility requirements as well as the possibility of its garnishment for purposes like child support or court-ordered restitution. ISER’s report, however, notes that it reaches more people than needs-based funding like the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
PFDs have recently been a political hot topic in Alaska, after Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s campaign promise to repay three years of dividends reduced during predecessor Bill Walker’s administration. ISER has found that repaying those dividends, which Dunleavy has proposed doing from 2019 through 2021, would cost the state $4.3 billion.
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