Washington Can Help States Return Billions to Rightful Owners

Last year, several national news outlets told the story of a Florida man who found a bank bag full of cash in the middle of a Titusville street. He turned the money over to the bank listed on a receipt in the bag and posted about the find on social media in hopes of alerting the rightful owner of his or her lost money. We love hearing stories like this — people helping people reclaim their property by doing what we all know to be “the right thing.” 

All 50 states, the District of Columbia and territories of the United States have well-established unclaimed property programs, most of them run by their respective state treasurers, with decades of proven success doing much the same thing as the man in Florida: returning lost money to rightful owners — around $3 billion each year.

Today, the U.S. Treasury Department owes an estimated $26 billion to owners of matured, unredeemed savings bonds. Think of that $26 billion as a very large bag full of lost cash. The savings bonds are unredeemed simply because their owners forgot about them. While the federal government does not return unclaimed property like the states, it could provide the states with information sufficient to aid the states in reuniting this lost money with its owners or heirs.

But Treasury has refused to proactively assist the states in this worthy mission. In fact, former Louisiana state treasurer, and now U.S. Senator, John Kennedy (R-La.) fought unsuccessfully along with several other state treasurers to compel Treasury to resolve this issue, failing thus far to prompt cooperation from the agency.

In August, Sen. Kennedy introduced the Unclaimed Savings Bond Act of 2019, which would require the U.S. Treasury Department to give states the information needed to alert bondholders or their heirs of the existence of their unclaimed bonds, so they can claim the funds.  This legislation — co-sponsored by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) — would prompt the U.S. Treasury to do the right thing, just like that man in Florida, by enabling the states to do more of what they’ve proven they do very effectively — reuniting lost money with its rightful owners.

As someone who has seen firsthand the positive impact the return of unclaimed property can have on an individual or family, I am confident the Unclaimed Savings Bond Act will improve lives. Make no mistake, only the states have the experience and infrastructure needed to alert owners (or their heirs) of these bonds and facilitate their redemption. I commend Senator Kennedy for introducing the Unclaimed Savings Bond Act and urge Congress to do the right thing and pass this proposed legislation into law.


David Damschen is Utah’s State Treasurer and President of the National Association of State Treasurers.

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