Even most of the ardent of PFD defenders in the Legislature weren’t willing to open the box on a supplemental PFD during their three-day return to Juneau to give nearly $1 billion in CARES Act spending the green light, but an idea floated there about an early payout has become a reality.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Wednesday night that dividends will begin distribution on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year and the earliest he could legally distribute the money. Dividends have traditionally been paid out in October.
“We’re in extraordinary times. We need to make sure that the people of Alaska have cash in their hands to help with this economy,” he said during an announcement at the end of Wednesday’s coronavirus update, according to a report by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “I can’t think of a better time to do it than now.”
The amount of the dividend remains unchanged from the $1,000 approved by the Legislature earlier this year. There was no credible effort or, really, opportunity for lawmakers to push for a supplemental payout during their return to Juneau earlier this week as leadership was keen on keeping things focused on approving much-needed coronavirus relief funds for communities and small businesses.
The payout won’t all be landing at once as has traditionally been the case. According to the announcement, payments will go out as applicants’ eligibility has been determined. As of Wednesday, 85 percent of applicants’ eligibility has been reviewed and the state estimated nearly 600,0000 of the 671,364 applicants will receive the $1,000 payment on July 1.
Those remaining 71,000 applicants could be left waiting several months as subsequent payouts, according to the announcement, are planned for July 23, Aug. 20 and subsequent months.
The idea of an early payout has been circulating as a possibility this week. Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, raised the possibility several times during floor debates and a news conference.
Because he’s the governor, I did check with legislative legal on the issue of the divided, the governor has the power provided him by our appropriation that was made ealrier this for a dividend to execute that dividend as soon at that bill becomes law, which will happen on July 1st,” he said. “He has the power to bifurcate that dividend, do whatever he wants to spend it early and I would recommend he do so.”
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and Senate President Cathy Giessel told the Anchorage Daily News that they weren’t surprised by the announcement and ultimately supported it. Edgmon noted that though there’s certainly the need for direct cash assistance to Alaskans now, it won’t erase the need for money in the fall.
“I think it greatly increases the prospect of a fall special session,” he told the paper.
The timing of a fall special session could have a significant impact on the fall elections as it would force incumbent legislators to pause their campaigning with what would likely a month or even less until voters head to the polls.