Cash for you

I received an interesting press release at the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin this week from Kansas State Treasurer Lynn Jenkins. Jenkins has an Internet site, as do all our government officials. She wants newspaper readers across the state to know about an award won by her Internet site, thus the press release.

Linked to her home page is a web site about unclaimed property in Kansas. Seems the Kansas site is so user-friendly and easily navigated that it won an award from a national group, the Unclaimed Property Professionals Organization. (Now don't they sound like a fun bunch? I bet they sit around at conventions and tell tales of buried treasure, bread sacks full of money, and molding deeds tucked away in safe deposit boxes.)

I decided to check out the unclaimed property site, called and it really is pretty up front about where to click and what options to try if you get no results.

You can even look at any given Kansas county and see how much money has been returned to your friends and neighbors in the past couple of decades. For Marion County a whopping $124,533.86 has been returned. The year with the smallest amount was back in the early 1980s when only $46 was returned. The largest amount was passed out a couple of years ago with just under $16,000 finding its way back to Marion County.

And I have to tell you here, that I am proud of our state's policy on aggressively marketing this "cash cow" and trying to do the right thing by its citizens. This is not a common practice. Those of you who grouse about the "gummint" on a regular basis need to sit up and take notice.

A month or so ago the Wall Street Journal had a front-page story about other states that have decided the unclaimed property is really a cash cow, indeed. A lot of states are cash strapped these days. The word "deficit" creeps into local, state, and federal budget discussions all the time. Unclaimed property in most states climbs into the millions of dollars. Millions just sitting there, waiting for someone to say, "Hey, that's mine!"

But that rarely happens, so it was just a matter of time until someone somewhere looked at an unclaimed property line item in a state budget and queried, "Holy Moly, will you look at that?"

And now states all across the country are putting restrictions and time limits on just how long that stinky old unclaimed junk can languish in state coffers, banks, investment houses, businesses, and such before it becomes . . . GASP . . . the property of the state! Imagine that!

Some legislators have shortened the amount of time an account can remain inactive to a brief three years. After that, the state moves in and claims the property for its own. It may or may not make an attempt to contact the former owner. In some places, it doesn't have to make the attempt. In others, it may not be much of an attempt.

Millions are going straight into state budgets to shore up bulging deficits. A cash cow for sure. And who is going to know? You don't know your money or property is missing, right? If you knew, you would claim it, wouldn't you? So, with this new wrinkle, how are you going to know (or prove) that your state government has run off with your funds after a few short years?

I have to tell you that Kansas was one of a very few in the Wall Street Journal story to make the cut and take the high road, making a big attempt to return valuables to its citizens. I was pretty proud of that bunch in Topeka. Apparently Jenkins' office even sets up displays at the state fair in Hutchinson and at some regional county fairs every summer in an attempt to find the original owners of the unclaimed property. You can't get much more "down home" than that.

So this is one time that I am pleased and proud to pass on a press release from a state official. Kansas began in 1983 to make an earnest attempt at returning unclaimed property to its citizens, so my guess is treasurer Jenkins can't take sole credit for doing the right thing, but good for her for continuing the tradition.

Meanwhile I confess I am glad to be a transplant to this great state.