By State Treasurer John M. Schroder

I’ve hit the six-month mark serving as State Treasurer, and it’s been a privilege to jump in feet first to learn about all of the functions of the Treasury and the ways we watch over taxpayers’ money.  I’ve particularly enjoyed being able to write about the agency’s different divisions in this monthly column.

One of my goals when I first took office was to educate more people about the functions of the Treasury, and the aim of these articles was to shed more light on our work.  I’ve previously written about Treasury’s Investments, Fiscal, and Bond Commission Divisions, and this month, I would like to close out with the Unclaimed Property Program.  One of my favorite parts of being State Treasurer is overseeing this program.

The Unclaimed Property Division has been around since 1972.  It started out at the Louisiana Department of Revenue and moved over to the Treasury in 2000.  Here’s how the program works.  Each year businesses are responsible for turning over unclaimed deposits, checks and other funds to the state when they cannot find the owners of the money.  It most often occurs when people move and change addresses.

By law, after the money is turned over to us, you have a claim on it for the rest of your life, and your heirs can claim it after that.  This means if the state owes you unclaimed money, you will be able to collect it tomorrow or 40 years from now.

Most states operate unclaimed property programs very similar to Louisiana’s.  One of the major differences is the type of property collected.  Louisiana doesn’t take in tangible items like jewelry or savings deposit boxes.  We deal mostly in cash and some securities.  We collect funds from insurance policies, utility deposits, stocks and bonds, final paychecks and gift certificates.

We routinely collect large dollar amounts, sometimes in the six figure range, but it’s usually for a business that we can easily identify and locate.  This past November, however, we had a very special case.  We collected a large dollar amount in unclaimed oil royalties that were owed to a gentleman who had passed away.  We don’t know what prevented him from collecting the royalties before he died, but the money was turned over to the state.

This was a unique case, and it was worth it when we delivered a check for $2.3 million!  This was the largest amount of money ever returned to one person in the history of the program.

One great thing about unclaimed property is the more we talk about the program, the more money we return.  After we told people about our multi-million dollar return, we gave back another $340,000 in 48 hours.  We’re constantly returning people’s money to them and collecting unclaimed money from businesses.

Louisiana still has about $848 million in unclaimed property on the books that we must return to individuals across the state.  As technology improves, we have been able to do more and return more.  We have a new fast-track system that has helped us process almost 12,000 more claims this year than we did last year.

This fall, we will be working with the Department of Revenue to cross-check current addresses of individuals who have filed state tax returns.  The number one reason an item becomes unclaimed property is because of a wrong address, so this will help us to return more money to citizens.

Finally, we will try to pass legislation to create a trust fund to protect unclaimed property.  A bill to take the first step in that process and create an infrastructure bank passed the House and the Senate this year with overwhelming support but was vetoed by Governor Edwards.

We’re also looking at ways to market the program better.  A lot of people hear about “unclaimed property” and think we’re talking about parcels of land or lost and found items that need to be claimed.  If you have any ideas on how we can get the word out that this money belongs to the people, let us know.  This is as much your program as it is ours.

It’s not often that government gives money back to people, and we love doing it.  If you want to search for money for you, your friends or your family, visit www.latreasury.com or call us toll-free at 1-888-925-4127.

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