Northeast Times

Windfall!

— State Rep. Ed Neilson says the Pennsylvania Treas­ury is hold­ing $11 mil­lion in un­claimed prop­erty that be­longs to people in his 169th dis­trict. This week, he's been re­unit­ing con­stitu­ents with their cash.

On Monday, Au­gust 20 State Rep­res­ent­at­ive Ed Neilson (right) at his of­fice loc­ated at the Academy Plaza Shop­ping Cen­ter along with his aide Dani­elle Cu­bas ( second to the left) hand Wil­li­am and Mar­garet Mc­Grogan (cen­ter) in­form­a­tion that they are re­ceiv­ing money from the Treas­ury De­part­ment. (Donna Di Paolo)

Wal­ter Debes found some money on Monday. So did Wil­li­am Mc­Grogan and Joe Dawson.

None of them dis­covered tre­mend­ous sums, and the cash wasn’t just ly­ing around either. It was un­claimed prop­erty be­ing held in the Pennsylvania Treas­ury. The money is theirs, and al­ways was; they just didn’t know it.

On Monday, state Rep. Ed Neilson (D-169th dist.) hos­ted what he called a “Treas­ury hunt” in his of­fice at Red Li­on and Academy roads to help con­stitu­ents find out if Pennsylvania was hold­ing their as­sets.

The com­mon­wealth has cus­tody of about $2 bil­lion in un­claimed as­sets. Neilson said $11 mil­lion of it be­longs to people who live in his North­east Philly dis­trict. Those dis­trict sums range from about 50 cents to more than $97,000, he said.

The law­maker learned re­cently that more than $64 of that dough was his. Not the biggest slice of his dis­trict’s large pie, to be sure, but it’s money that was rest­ing in the state’s cof­fers and is now in Neilson’s wal­let.

Even be­fore his event, sched­uled to con­tin­ue on Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, Neilson said he had found more than $54,000 for one con­stitu­ent.

When Neilson took of­fice after a spe­cial elec­tion this spring, he heard about the as­sets Pennsylvania holds. He asked the Treas­ury De­part­ment to sort through the names and ad­dresses of people in his 169th Dis­trict who had un­claimed prop­erty. That in­form­a­tion was put on a CD, which he and his staffers used Monday, along with a state Web site, to re­unite cash and con­stitu­ents.

Neilson sent out 2,000 mail­ings to let folks know he would help them find their money dur­ing busi­ness hours this week. Debes, Mc­Grogan and Dawson were among the 28 people who turned out Monday. That’s when Dawson dis­covered he had an in­sur­ance com­pany re­fund com­ing to him.

How did the state wind up with people’s money in the first place? 

The an­swer is: lots of ways.

Bank ac­counts, for in­stance.

The state con­siders a bank ac­count un­claimed prop­erty if it hasn’t been touched in any way for five years. Dormant ac­counts must, by law, be turned over to the state.

To avoid that, “you just have to do something that shows cus­tom­er-gen­er­ated activ­ity,” said Jack Stoll­steimer, Treas­ury’s dir­ect­or of un­claimed prop­erty. In­terest pos­ted doesn’t count as a trans­ac­tion, he ad­ded. 

Al­though the law al­lows the com­mon­wealth to use un­claimed as­sets, it’s not really lost to its own­ers, Stoll­steimer said in an in­ter­view earli­er this year. The state wants people to get their as­sets, he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Rob Mc­Cord, the state’s treas­urer, Pennsylvania is hold­ing dol­lars for 1 in 10 of its cit­izens.

Trouble is that most people simply don’t know about Pennsylvania’s un­claimed prop­erty, or es­cheat, laws or that they can eas­ily search to see if any of their money is in state cus­tody, Stoll­steimer said.

It’s easy to check. Just go to the Treas­ury De­part­ment’s Web site, www.patreas­ury.gov, and click on Un­claimed Prop­erty on the top left. You’ll be taken to a page to enter your name. 

Kim­berly Wash­ing­ton, co­ordin­at­or of North­east EPIC Stake­hold­ers and pres­id­ent of the Frank­ford Parks Group, looked on the Treas­ury Web site and found the state had about $300 for her. It was the fi­nal paycheck from a job she had had while in col­lege.

“It was very simple.  I filled out a one-page ap­plic­a­tion. A co-work­er not­ar­ized it and I mailed it in,” she said. 

Wash­ing­ton re­ceived a con­firm­a­tion let­ter a week later. “It took about two to three weeks for me to get the ac­tu­al check,” she said.

Last year, the com­mon­wealth took in $200 mil­lion in un­claimed prop­erty, but it also re­turned $111 mil­lion. The av­er­age amount re­turned was $1,200, Stoll­steimer said Monday at Neilson’s of­fice.

ldquo;In this eco­nomy, a thou­sand or even two hun­dred dol­lars can make a dif­fer­ence in someone’s life,” Stoll­steimer said.

State law re­quires fin­an­cial in­sti­tu­tions to turn over money from dormant ac­counts, said Bri­an Schmitt, chief fin­an­cial of­ficer of the Amer­ic­an Her­it­age Fed­er­al Cred­it Uni­on.

Stoll­steimer said there are a couple op­tions. A bank or cred­it uni­on can give the per­son his or her money dir­ectly and then re­claim it from the state, or the per­son may get it from the state.

Un­claimed as­sets are put in­to the state’s gen­er­al fund, but can be re­claimed at any time. The state feels it is more trust­worthy, Schmitt said earli­er this year, and it’s a plus for tax­pay­ers, he ad­ded.

Why?

“The state gets the be­ne­fit of hold­ing the money,” Stoll­steimer said. “But the state is in a bet­ter po­s­i­tion to find the own­ers.”

The un­claimed prop­erty law doesn’t just ap­ply to bank ac­counts, Schmitt said. Con­tents of safety-de­pos­it boxes are turned over to the state after five years of in­activ­ity, too. Cash set aside to pay money or­ders goes to the state in sev­en years. Money for trav­el­ers checks, in 15 years.

“What the rep­res­ent­at­ive is do­ing is ex­traordin­ar­ily help­ful in our out­reach ef­forts,” he said.

And be­sides, there are no fees in­volved in col­lect­ing what’s yours. Al­though there are some private in­di­vidu­als who so­li­cit find­er’s fees, state law pro­hib­its a charge high­er than 15 per­cent, Neilson and Stoll­steimer said.

Neilson said he and his staffers upped the total of as­sets they had found to more than $97.000 by late Tues­day morn­ing.

Large as that amount is, the li­on’s share of the $11 mil­lion Neilson be­lieves be­longs to in­di­vidu­als and busi­nesses in his dis­trict still is held by the Treas­ury De­part­ment.

“I just don’t think people un­der­stand how many have un­claimed prop­erty,” Stoll­steimer said. “Ig­nor­ance is the biggest is­sue to over­come.” ••

Start­Frag­ment

Found money …

The Com­mon­wealth of Pennsylvania main­tains a data bank of the names of people whose as­sets it is hold­ing. Vis­it www.patreas­ury.gov and click on un­claimed prop­erty.

Or call 1-800-222-2046.

Widen your search to oth­er states and Ca­na­dian provinces at www.miss­ing­money.com

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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