CT residents owed millions in unclaimed property; lawmakers consider bill that would return money automatically
(WFSB) - If you’ve ever checked the “unclaimed property” list, and found the state owes you money, you know the process to get it back is pretty clunky.
A new bill could streamline things, and automatically return that money right to you!
Some advocates say it needs to happen now but the state office in charge has some concerns.
$1B IN UNCLAIMED PROPERTY:
”Anyone, any entity can have unclaimed money,” says Ron Lizzi, a self-proclaimed advocate for unclaimed property reform, having testified before the legislature multiple times in support of reforms.
”States collect unclaimed property which is almost always money. It could be an uncashed check. It could be an old bank account. It could be insurance proceeds that were never collected,” says Lizzi.
Today he’s talking to Channel 3 about a bi-partisan bill that would bring sweeping changes to the state’s unclaimed property program.
“If it passes, millions of dollars in checks should be sent out to people,” says Lizzi. Right now, the State of Connecticut is sitting on more than one billion dollars in unclaimed property. That’s your money.
The state can spend it unless you ask for it back.
In the last 3 years, more than $227 M was put in the General Fund, more than $37 M into the Citizen Election Fund. The CEP is used by Democrats and Republicans to get state grants to run for office, instead of having to rely on lobbyists, etc. to fund their campaigns.
If you think there’s money that belongs to you, you have to visit CTBigList.com and file a claim.
If you don’t put in that effort, the state will keep spending your money.
Last year the state returned 39% of the money it took in. The rate was 22% in 2021, and 55% in 2020.
“It really shouldn’t work that way. It shouldn’t be entirely the burden of the owners,” says Lizzi.
Pending legislation would change that process, allowing the state to automatically return money.
“The bill allows state agencies to share data so that the treasurer can look up current addresses of owners,” says Lizzi.
The treasurer could then use that information to return any unclaimed property that is valued at $5,000 or less to individuals and other groups, without you having to file a claim.
Rhode Island has been doing so since 2017, and Utah just passed a similar bill.
”I think that the potential to do good here is enormous. Because there’s so much money,” says Lizzi.
WHAT DOES THE TREASURER THINK?
We asked Treasurer Erick Russell for an on-camera interview. He said he was unavailable, but did answer our questions through email, saying:
“Many of the goals sought in the legislation are good aspirations for the Unclaimed Property program and, overall, it’s a great thing for state residents that lawmakers are so interested and invested in making the program successful. In general, I’m supportive of all efforts to safely return property to its rightful owners. As always, any time programmatic changes are being discussed, the available resources and implementation details are critical. The program should return as much property to owners as fast as possible, but in that pursuit, proper safeguards need to be in place to protect against fraudulent claims and ensure property is being returned to its rightful owners. As I told lawmakers when the bill was introduced, provisions that automatically turn over property to groups without proof of ownership are legally problematic, if well-intentioned. I appreciate the openness and collaboration of the committee in taking those concerns into account.”
The bill would also require the treasurer to return all unclaimed money to municipalities, once a year.
For example, Irving Robbins Middle School in Farmington. According to Ron Lizzi, they appear to have $10,000 in the program.
Lizzi says the New Haven Symphony has nearly $5200.
The New Haven Housing Authority: more than $343 thousand dollars in unclaimed money.
Lizzi got those amounts from the Treasurer’s Office, he says.
“The Treasurer’s Office has a special list called a Finder’s List. It’s not publicized but you can purchase it. For my research, I purchased it and started going through it,” says Lizzi. “It’s a gigantic PDF file that is 320,000 pages long. And it took me weeks to go through it and search it and I was able to find that property and others.”
We took that list to Karen Dubois-Walton, President and Executive Director of the New Haven Housing Authority. She called that amount unbelievable.
“Since your call, our CFO has been filing the claims for each one of those.
But if you look at the website, there’s several dozen claims to make under the name New Haven Housing Authority, each claim requiring its own paperwork.
“It’s hard to tell from the site that there’s anything that totals to any significant number, we see a lot that come under a 100 or over 100,” says Dubois-Walton.
”I would love a solution that doesn’t require that level of work in order to know what’s owed to us. We’re a public entity, all of this is public dollars that’s going into public good. It’s going to help families here, help with supportive services,” says Dubois-Walton. (Note: Dubois-Walton ran for Treasurer in the Democratic primary. Erick Russell won.).
“I think there could be an annual report of this is what’s owed that we would have to verify in some way,” says Dubois-Walton.
Through email, Treasurer Russell said, “changes made to the Unclaimed Property system through legislation in recent years, ongoing streamlining of internal processes, and collaboration with other state agencies, will dramatically accelerate the claims process, reducing backlogs and allowing staff to devote more time to the most complex cases. A top priority of mine since taking office has been to transition the time-consuming, manual work of claims review to more automated, technology-based solutions and we’re making great gains and expect to have the bulk of backlogged claims processed this summer ... my office is currently implementing several technology solutions that will allow for automatic payments of many claims and free up staff to spend more time on complex cases and customer service. We’re also hiring more staff and continuing to raise awareness of the program across the state. I’m confident that we can continue to improve both the claims process and the amount being returned to rightful owners.”
“Really, all of the owners are entitled to this money. It’s their money. It doesn’t belong to the state,” says Lizzi.
In March, Democratic and Republican lawmakers unanimously voted the bill out of committee.
But the bill has just sat there since.
We reached out to several lawmakers who could not give us a definitive answer of what happens next.
If passed, the new measures would cost $9 million in its first year and about $3.6 billion every year after that.
The legislature’s current session adjourns June 7th.
FILING A CLAIM:
There is no time limit to file a claim, and the ownership of your property does not expire.
You can file a claim here at: https://ctbiglist.com/
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