Reuniting Minnesotans With Their Money

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Reuniting Minnesotans With Their Money
 

by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

 

Minnesota lawmakers participating in conference committee discussions in St. Paul will be considering approving legislation over the next couple weeks that could restore newspaper publication of notices on unclaimed property held by the Department of Commerce’s Unclaimed Property Division.

Why is that important to you? It is important because just maybe the state is holding a $100 refund check on a gas bill that belongs to you. Maybe it is holding a $1,000 check from an insurance company that was written out to you or a relative. If you are lucky, maybe it is holding a $10,000 stock dividend that belongs to you or a relative. It might also have your grandmother’s wedding ring, a collector Babe Ruth baseball card, or a rare Mercury head dime that was in a safe deposit box turned over to the state.

Minnesota’s Unclaimed Property Division holds an estimated $750 million in assets that belong to citizens of Minnesota. All you have to do is claim what is yours and the state has to hand it over. But how do you know if you have anything coming to you?

At one time, the state had to send a letter to residents and businesses notifying them of their missing money, but it stopped doing that in 1986. Legislators changed the wording in the statute governing unclaimed property notification from “shall” to “may” and the letters stopped coming.

Still, the residents of Minnesota could read their local newspapers for lists of who had unclaimed property residing in the state treasury. When we published those lists, we would always pick out names of local people who had money coming to them and do a front-page story. Throughout Minnesota those stories helped unite people with what was rightfully theirs.

But state law mandating the publication of those lists was taken out of state statute back in 2005.

It is no coincidence that the amount of money in the state’s unclaimed property fund has gone up every year since. In 2005, the year publication stopped in newspapers, the fund had a balance of $230.5 million. Today, it is closer to $750 million and likely on its way to $1 billion. It is now estimated that at least one in every 20 Minnesotans could have claims in the fund.  

State law still requires Commerce’s Unclaimed Property Division to spend 15 percent of its budget, a little over $110,000 annually, on notifying the public about the funds it holds. However, that budget has gone to things like its web site MissingMoney.com, booths at the Mall of America, and a booth at the Minnesota State Fair.

But like with most things in this hectic world we live in, if something is out of sight, it is out of mind. When was the last time you heard about the possibility the state might be holding money that belongs to you?

When the Legislature passed the law that required the state to hold on to unclaimed property, providing safekeeping for citizen’s assets, it also wanted the state to make a reasonable attempt to put that property back in the hands of the rightful owners. We don’t believe that is happening today.

Legislation has been introduced the past few years to restore published public notice of unclaimed property with those bills making it to the conference committee stage, but no farther. We are at that point again.

In South Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, and other states, the list of names of those with unclaimed property being held by the state is still published in newspapers. Following the publication of those notices, and the newspaper stories that accompany that publication, the number of claims made skyrockets.

Newspaper publication is the single largest contributor to reuniting his state’s citizen with their unclaimed property, South Dakota Treasurer Rich Sattgast says.

There is a cascading effect when names of people with unclaimed property are published in the local newspaper. While you might not find your name on the list, you might see a friend or neighbor’s name there.

As newspapers pushed for reinstating the requirement to publish notice of unclaimed property in newspapers in 2015, they also started carrying stories and columns about local people who had money coming to them. Those stories generated a tremendous amount of interest and led to a surge in claims.

As the unclaimed property fund grows relentlessly, it is time for the state to become more proactive in returning to citizens what is rightfully theirs. Newspaper publication is a proven, effective way of doing that. However, if the state really isn’t interested in living up to the charge of ensuring citizens are given back what belongs to them, it should keep the current paltry efforts in place. That will ensure the fund continues to grow and citizens remain unaware the state may be holding something that has their name on it.
 

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