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Elections & Escheatment: Unclaimed Property Issues in State Midterm Elections

With the midterm elections rapidly approaching, candidates in many states are making a final push to win their respective races, bombarding us with a variety of ads and campaign speeches addressing important issues and concerns for their constituents.

In several states, the subject of unclaimed property, specifically the return of escheated property to its citizens, has taken a prominent role in the midterms.

Massachusetts Treasurer Race

In this race, Keiko Orrall, a Republican state representative, is running against Deborah Goldberg, the incumbent Democratic treasurer. In a recent debate, Orrall claimed that under Goldberg’s leadership, the Massachusetts unclaimed property division has not made enough of an effort to return unclaimed property to its citizens. Orrall asserted that the state only returned 10 percent of the escheated assets to its citizens.

Goldberg acknowledged that the claims process took longer than expected this year for many citizens because of a 450% year over year increase in the number of owner claims for abandoned property. This resulted in the need for additional staff and management within the unclaimed property division. The number of claims that were paid to owners also increased by 310% over the previous year according to Goldberg’s staff.

Colorado Gubernatorial and Treasurer Race

The Great Colorado Payback has taken center stage in two Colorado elections – the race for Governor and for Treasurer. The program was established in 1989 as the state’s mechanism to notify its citizens of escheated property.

Walker Stapleton, the current Colorado state treasurer, is the Republican candidate for Governor. Stapleton is credited with increasing the Payback’s outreach by way of advertising during the NCAA’s March Madness beginning in 2010. In 2017, the number of owner claims more than doubled, resulting in more instances of frustrated owners looking to recover their property.

This past July, Democratic Colorado Senators requested an audit of the Unclaimed Property Division. An audit had already been planned for the division, but was delayed due to competing priorities. Those results are not expected to be released until Summer 2019, long after the Colorado Governor’s race is decided. That hasn’t stopped commercials from airing that propose the program has been mismanaged.

In the race to succeed Stapleton, candidates for Treasurer have weighed in on the effectiveness of the Great Colorado Payback and how Colorado’s 14-person unclaimed property division can be more efficient.

In a recent questionnaire conducted by the Denver Post, Republican candidate Brian Watson indicated that he would prefer to evaluate the unclaimed property division and its processes before making any decisions on additional resource needs or expenditures. Watson noted, “Our current Treasurer has done a great job educating our state on the Great Colorado Payback program and I hope to build on that with increased efficiency and service.”

Within the same questionnaire, Democrat candidate Dave Young said he believed that additional staff within the division would be necessary in order to clear the backlog of owner claims and increase the amount of property returned to its rightful owners.

Illinois State Treasurer

Democratic incumbent Michael Frerichs is up for re-election after finishing his first term as State Treasurer. Illinois has experienced financial struggles in recent years, which contributed to the sweeping changes to its unclaimed property laws including reducing dormancy periods and eliminating the business to business exemption.

Frerichs, who oversees Illinois’ I-Cash unclaimed property reunification program, recently announced the “Money Match” program to increase the amount of unclaimed property returned to its citizens. Under the Money Match program, property valued at $2,000 or less with a single owner will be automatically matched to qualifying Illinois taxpayers. 63,000 Money Match letters were to be sent out in September of this year with a goal of returning more than $12 million in unclaimed property over the forthcoming weeks.

California State Controller

In California, Democrat incumbent Betty Yee is up for re-election as Controller. California currently holds more than $9 billion in unclaimed assets. In 2017, California returned approximately $309 million in claims.

South Carolina State Treasurer

The South Carolina State Treasurer seat is up for grabs as incumbent Republican Curtis Loftis faces competition from Democrat Rosalyn Glenn and Independent Sarah Work. On Loftis’ website, he notes a 226% increase in the amount of property returned to South Carolinians.

The Importance of Unclaimed Property Reunification Programs

As evident in the above state elections, many elected officials have touted their efforts to reunite owners with their assets as an indicator of their success in that position. These officials should be proud of their efforts, as connecting citizens with their lost or abandoned assets is no easy feat and is often time-consuming.

With unclaimed property dormancy periods decreasing, more and more property is escheated to the states every year. States must be proactive and creative in their efforts to notify owners and make the claims process simple and efficient, while minimizing fraud to ensure that the individual submitting the claim is indeed the rightful owner.

Unclaimed property holders, the businesses that ultimately escheat or transfer the property to the respective states, can do their part by making efforts to effectively reduce the amount of property escheated each year. Pre-escheat remediation and location programs may be employed to seek out owners of potentially abandoned or dormant property well before the statutory dormancy period and before due diligence mailings are required.

For additional information on establishing a pre-escheat remediation and location program, or reducing your overall escheatable population, please contact us for a complimentary consultation.

Is unclaimed property an issue in any other state midterm? Let us know at Questions@KeaneUP.com.

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