More places looking to basic income; Alaska has had its own form for almost 40 years

Posted at 4:11 PM, Mar 12, 2020

Next to the piercing blue water of the Gastineau Channel, sits Juneau, Alaska. In early spring, the warmer weather creates a slush from the melting snow. But it’s a welcome sign of relief from the harsher winter temperatures and the high cost of heating Juneau homes.

Just ask Robert Brown, a cook at a local restaurant.

“I pay right around $350 for 100 gallons of heating fuel, and I’ll go through about 100 gallons in a month in the winter,” said Brown.

Paying that much can be a burden on a fry cook's paycheck.

Luckily, Robert gets some relief from the state, thanks to the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD).

“As they were realizing the amount of money in the oil industry, and as the state of Alaska was pulling this all in, they decided they should make a program that benefits the residents of Alaska and gives back to them,” said Anne Weske who runs the PFD.

The PFD provides an annual check to Alaskans based on interest revenue from oil industry profits. It’s a form of basic income, an idea that became popular during Andrew Yang’s presidential run, which came to an end last month.

Yang wanted to give every American a check for $1,000 every month. Alaska’s is a little different. In most cases, people who live in Alaska get a check every October and the amount changes based on the year. This year it was $1,600.

“If you ever here in October, you feel it. There are car sales, PFD sales for cars, furniture, Costco, Fred Meyer, all these different places really kind of feed into the hype of the permanent fund season for us,” said Weske.

But some people think if there aren’t changes to the PFD, it may not be around for much longer.

“How permanent is that when you’ve got, you’re relying all on this oil revenue coming in and your quote, stock options, but you never invested in other revenue sources that would supply the same kind of need that oil supplies,” said Kaelen Delcastillio.

Delcastillio uses his check to buy bicycles to help reduce his carbon footprint. He thinks the people who live here are too reliant on the oil industry, and he might be right. The fund's board of trustees said last month there's a 50 percent chance the money may not be able to pay residents with in the next 20 years.

“I worry about the future for Alaska, because we didn’t plan in the late ‘90s and start converting over slowly were basically in a crisis,” said Delcastillio.

If the cash does dry up, Brown says he and other Alaskans will have to find a way to live with out it.

“If it’s gone it’s gone, there’s nothing you can do about it. A lot of unhappy people but.. It’d be missed but I’d make it,” said Brown.