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Alaskans to get $900 dividend from oil-wealth fund

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Nearly every Alaskan will be $900 richer next month, thanks to an annual payout from the state's $47 billion oil wealth trust fund that has been credited with keeping many low-income families out of poverty, state officials said on Wednesday.

About 640,000 Alaskans will receive the payout from the Alaska Permanent Fund, with recipients ranging from a 108-year-old to a baby born a minute before midnight on December 31, narrowly qualifying as a 2012 state resident.

The Alaska Permanent Fund was established by a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1976 requiring a portion of state oil revenues be put into a savings account to be available for the distant future, when the North Slope oil fields were tapped out.

The annual direct payout to citizens, which began in 1982, is unique to Alaska, even though other jurisdictions have resource wealth funds. The first dividend was an even $1,000.

In 2008, the fund paid each Alaskan a record $2,069. Recent years' dividends, calculated using a five-year weighted average of investment earnings, have been more modest, and this year's payment was just $22 more than the $878 paid last year.

To qualify for a dividend, Alaskans must have lived in the state for a full calendar year, or been born in the past year. There are some allowances for extended absences, but they are limited.

The dividend remains an important perk of Alaska residency and a major economic force, used for college and retirement savings, big-ticket purchases, vacations and bill-paying.

Economists have credited it for keeping many low-income families out of poverty. Some argue that it has encouraged Alaskans to have bigger families.

There are occasional cases of dividend fraud. In one notorious case, a couple in 2012 was indicted for claiming $36,592 in family dividends for supposed Alaska residency at a time that prosecutors say the family was living in sunny Hawaii.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Stacey Joyce)

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