In the years preceding statehood, the territory of Alaska had few resources to provide for the mentally ill or those with developmental disabilities, many of whom were sent by the federal government to outside institutions after being charged and convicted for being “insane and at large.” In 1956, Congress transferred the responsibility for providing mental health care to the territory and ultimately the state, establishing the Alaska Mental Health Trust and granting it one million acres of land to generate income for a comprehensive mental health program. However, in a class action lawsuit ruling in 1984, the Alaska Supreme Court determined the state breached its fiduciary responsibility to manage Trust land. In 1994, after many years of litigation, in a final landmark settlement the Alaska Mental Health Trust was reconstituted with $200 million and one million acres of land. The Permanent Fund Corporation was assigned management of the cash corpus and the Trust Land Office was created to manage the non-cash assets. The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority was established to administer beneficiary programs. A further condition of the settlement established an independent board of trustees appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Alaska Legislature to oversee Trust operations.
For more than 20 years, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority has administered the trust and served Alaskans who experience mental illness, developmental disabilities, chronic alcohol or drug addiction, Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia, and/or traumatic brain injuries. The Trust is the only organization of its kind in the United States. It works similarly to a private foundation, funding projects and programs that promote long-term systematic change and improve the lives and circumstances of beneficiaries.
The Trust Land Office structures planning around seven asset classes: land, minerals and materials, program related real estate, forests, real estate, energy and mitigation marketing. Revenue-generating uses of Trust land include land leasing and sales; real estate investment and development; commercial timber sales; mineral exploration and production; coal, oil and gas exploration and development; sand, and other general land uses.