Our View: Reunite Minnesotans with our money
It happens. A checking account hardly gets used. A tax refund goes undelivered because someone moves. A deposit is paid and then is forgotten about. At least one in every 20 Minnesotans has unclaimed property, according to a state estimate. In ot...
It happens. A checking account hardly gets used. A tax refund goes undelivered because someone moves. A deposit is paid and then is forgotten about. At least one in every 20 Minnesotans has unclaimed property, according to a state estimate. In other words, we have money out there; we've just lost track of it.
By law, the state has to hold on to it for us, and the state does do a pretty good job of that. Currently, an estimated $750 million is being held, waiting to be claimed by some 272,850 rightful Minnesota owners.
But the state also is supposed to be making an effort to find those rightful owners so they can be reunited with their cash and other property. Unfortunately, the state does almost nothing to satisfy that responsibility.
Legislation to improve the state's record and to get more of us our money back is making its way through the Minnesota Legislature once again this session. Lawmakers started debating the matter last week in conference committee, precisely where legislation has stalled in past years.
The legislation includes advertising unclaimed property in newspapers again, and on newspapers' websites. It deserves passage. The state stopped such postings 12 years ago and saw the amount of unclaimed property skyrocket. According to the Minnesota Newspaper Association, the figure tripled during the decade.
It's $750 million in limbo, just sitting there and not doing anyone any good. It's $750 million Minnesotans can't be spending and that isn't boosting our economy.
So reuniting the property with its rightful owners can be seen as economic development. Even a meager $100,000, as was considered last year by the Legislature, would be a minor investment by the state with a potential return of hundreds of millions of dollars to public circulation.
"The current methods of notifying (Minnesotans about their lost property) has been very ineffective," Minnesota Newspaper Association Executive Director Lisa Hills told the News Tribune and others in a memo.
South Dakota, Missouri, Indiana and Illinois are among states still publishing the names of residents with unclaimed property. It works.
"After those notices appear, the number of unclaimed property claims skyrockets," Hills said. "In addition to people finding their own names on the list, publication causes a chain reaction, where friends, relatives and neighbors see someone they know on the list and tell them. The effect is much like publication of the delinquent tax list, which has been very effective."
Even if the Legislature has refused to take action, since 2015, newspapers across Minnesota have been publishing columns, editorials and news stories, raising awareness of the unclaimed-property issue. The newspapers' efforts prompted hundreds of Minnesotans to file claims. A record high $49.3 million in unclaimed property was returned to owners in 2016.
With a little effort from lawmakers - publishing names in newspapers and on newspaper websites isn't a lot to ask of the state - more of our money and property can be returned to its rightful owners, us. And that promises to cause a whole lot of economic good.