Connecticut’s unclaimed property program provided over $73,000 back to nearly 73,000 individuals during the 2023 fiscal year, breaking its previous record of returning uncashed checks, misplaced refunds and forgotten policies back to their rightful owners.
Connecticut Treasurer Erick Russell said his office has successfully returned a record number of people with their money since automatic mailing checks was introduced into its program for unclaimed property collection.
“I am extremely pleased with our progress this year in modernizing and streamlining the unclaimed property system and claims processing,” Russell stated. “It has been hard work for our team but well worth the effort.
At 72,981 people, this year was an enormous step forward for the program, which required individuals to locate their missing assets on the Connecticut Big List website and file formal claims with the treasurer’s office.
Over the last 23 years, this process resulted in only approximately 16,000 individuals successfully recovering their funds from the state.
Reunited with their Unclaimed Property
Connecticut’s Unclaimed Property Program successfully returned nearly 73,000 people with checks, savings accounts, and insurance proceeds in 2016, which represents a vast improvement from prior 23-year averages of only 15,000 returns per year.
The Connecticut Mirror published an expose in early 2022 revealing that Connecticut’s unclaimed property program returned only 37% of what banks, utilities, insurance companies and other financial institutions were expected to turn over during two decades of unclaimed property reporting requirements.
Investigation revealed that the Treasurer’s office failed to disclose millions of checks, refunds, and assets valued under $50 on its CT Big List; making it virtually impossible for people to recognize that the state held onto their money.
Due to these reports, state officials decided to reform parts of the program in order to make it simpler for people to identify and recover money that rightly belongs to them.
Shawn Wooden, who served as Connecticut treasurer from 2019-2022, amended state legislation to change requirements that all claims submitted to the state be notarized, and mandated that every piece of unclaimed property, known as lost money Connecticut, should be added to the CT Big List regardless of value.
Legislators also empowered the Treasurer’s office with the authority to automatically return any assets worth less than $2,500 provided the state could verify the identity and addresses of their owners.
That was a notable development that brought Connecticut in line with an increasing number of states that automatically send checks out to people listed as having unclaimed property.
Many, including Wooden, believe that legal changes alone would do little in practice without lawmakers providing access to state tax records and other existing government data that can help locate individuals.
Legislators failed to pass bills that would grant access to such information for Treasurer’s office use in recent sessions.
Russell, the current treasurer, said this did not impede his team from devising alternative means to identify owners of unclaimed property valued under $2,500 and establish current addresses of those individuals.
He explained that the treasurer’s office used LexisNexis, an information service company, to verify people’s names, addresses and personal data such as Social Security numbers or taxpayer identification numbers.
Russell announced in early June that they had successfully executed their inaugural batch of automatic payments under Connecticut Returning Unclaimed Funds program. To achieve this feat, several internal processes had to be modified, as well as extensive testing and preparatory work from their unclaimed property team; eventually this enabled them to issue thousands of checks without needing physical paperwork on their end.
Russell revealed that the treasurer’s office collaborated with the Department of Social Services to identify people with unclaimed property who also owe child support; then using this unclaimed money as partial payment towards delinquent child support obligations.
Russell said that by automating these processes, the treasurer’s office has been able to focus more of its resources on providing assistance for people filing claims for unclaimed property valued above $2,500 and where ownership of said money can be more difficult to establish.
“We are delighted with the progress made so far and eager to expand upon it by modernizing the unclaimed property system and returning funds more promptly to their rightful owners,” Russell noted.
Last year, 315 individuals made use of the Unclaimed Property Program to cash out. But that number is only one measure by which the Treasurer’s Office measures itself.
The office keeps track of how much of its unclaimed funds it is returning each year; and in terms of this metric, less progress has been made over time.
Recent annual report for the unclaimed property program indicates that California returned around $72 million during fiscal year 2023. While this represents nearly 40% of what it accumulated last year, this remains only around one-fifth.
Ron Lizzi of Connecticut has spearheaded a public campaign to reform its unclaimed property program and has encouraged state legislators to file new legislation in response. According to him, this figure illustrates there remains room for further improvement.
Lizzi was aware of the limitations to returning all funds since there may not be enough information included with each asset to locate its true owner.
Lizzi believes the state should be able to return a larger proportion of money it currently possesses, especially considering it maintains an estimated 9.9 million owners and $1.4 billion worth of unclaimed property accumulated over decades.
Lizzi was instrumental in persuading bipartisan legislators on the Legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee to move a bill related to unclaimed property during 2023 session.
This bill would have required that the Treasurer provide more specific details of each piece of unclaimed property listed on the CT Big List, a public database for Connecticut Returning Unclaimed Funds. Furthermore, data sharing between his office and DRS would have been allowed and automatic payments of up to $5,000 would have been increased automatically for assets left behind unclaimed.
However, neither House nor Senate ever agreed to take up this legislation.
“More reform is needed,” according to Lizzi of Bethany, and she plans on proposing it in future efforts.