The State Found Your Lost Wallet, But We Arenâ€™t Going to Tell You
State Holds Record $650 Million in Lost Funds with No Requirement to Tell Owners
Op-Ed by Rep. Joe Atkins
March 31, 2015
When I got the list of my constituents with unclaimed property being held by the State of Minnesota two months ago, I was astonished at the amount â€“ a staggering $7 million in lost funds belonged to families from my House district of 39,500 people. I naturally assumed the people on the unclaimed property list would be hard to find, since some insurance company, bank or past employer had been unable to locate the person with unclaimed property. Boy, was I wrong. It was a walk in the park to find the owners of unclaimed property. Over the course of three weeks, allotting a mere 10 minutes per day, I located and notified local residents with over $303,000 in unclaimed funds. Thatâ€™s in excess of $100,000 per hour.
Statewide, the total amount of unclaimed or lost property being held by Minnesotaâ€™s Department of Commerce is mind-blowing â€“ a record $650 million â€“ almost three times as much as it was a mere decade ago. This represents a whopping $125 in unclaimed funds for every one of Minnesotaâ€™s 5.2 million citizens.
However, what I learned next is what really surprised me.
Minnesota law does not require the Department of Commerce to take any affirmative steps to find owners. So the money just sits there. And sits there. And grows in the Stateâ€™s coffers.
To me, what the State is doing is like finding a lost wallet full of cash, with an ID in it, but not calling the owner to let him know you found his wallet.
In my 180-minute experiment to find local folks with lost or unclaimed property, I found three things most owners had in common. First, the owners were amazingly easy to find, often as a result of a quick Google or address search. Second, most owners were completely unaware they had lost funds being held by the State. Many owners were children of deceased parents who had bank accounts or insurance proceeds. Some had changed jobs and been entitled to additional pay or benefits. Finally, almost none of the owners were aware of the Stateâ€™s current one-prong effort to reunite them with their funds via a website called www.MissingMoney.com.
The Stateâ€™s current effort using www.MissingMoney.com is the online equivalent of occasionally stapling a sign to a utility pole saying we found a lost wallet. Even though we know the name of the owner and his or her last known address, the State waits for the owner to find us using the website.
To its credit, the Minnesota Department of Commerce does take the website on the road. For example, it sets up computer stations for 10 days in the Education Building at the State Fair where Minnesotans can type in their names to find out if they have lost funds.
I believe we have a responsibility to do more, especially since we know the name and address of the owner.
To help reunite people with the property thatâ€™s owed to them, I have introduced HF 1693, which will bring an entirely different approach to the effort. This bill would address this problem by doing three things:
First, my legislation would expand on an old-fashioned idea that worked well, running ads in local newspapers listing the names of local folks with unclaimed funds. In South Dakota, which still does it this way, they get hundreds of calls per day for weeks after ads run in local papers.
Second, the legislation would call on the Department of Commerce to reach out to owners of lost property, most of whom are easy to find and are unaware they have unclaimed funds. This could be done by current staff, by interns, or by volunteers, whatever works. But it needs to be done. To the extent there are modest costs associated with doing so, there is no need to look to taxpayers to pay for this effort. The Department testified it could use unclaimed funds currently coming in from insurance companies that cannot be tied to any particular owner and which presently go into the Unclaimed Property Fund.
Finally, my legislation requires the Department of Commerce to provide each legislator with a list of local residents with unclaimed property, so other legislators can alert constituents just like I am doing.
Plain and simple, it is not right for the State to be holding more than half a billion dollars of Minnesotansâ€™ money and not be actively engaged in reuniting people with it. This bill offers a common sense solution to the problem at no additional cost to the taxpayer. It is about time the State do a better job getting wallets back to their rightful owners.
Rep. Joe Atkins
DFL-Inver Grove Heights
Minnesota House of Representatives
651-296-4192 â€“ firstname.lastname@example.org
CONTACT: Mike Molzahn (651) 296-1774