PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon and Washington are making big changes to their unclaimed property programs in the hopes of returning money to people and even government agencies.
KOIN 6 learned the states have been receiving record amounts of unclaimed money from sources such as uncashed rebates and checks, forgotten bank accounts and security deposits.
Emile Snyder of Talent, Oregon, was recently reunited with $67,000 from an account his bank closed because of inactivity.
“It was a little freaky,” he explained when he realized his account disappeared. He learned his bank turned the money over to Oregon’s Unclaimed Property Program which got him his money back two months later.
“Very relieved, it was stressful,” said Snyder.
The State of Oregon has $800 million waiting to be claimed, while Washington has $1.4 billion. Both states want to return those dollars to the rightful owners.
States typically have to wait for people to search their unclaimed property databases but in the fall of 2020, Oregon became one of the first states to try a different approach. The new strategy involved mailing nearly 11,000 Oregonians checks for unclaimed cash in amounts ranging from $50 to $2,500. All of those checks totaled $3.2 million.
But only about two-thirds of the checks Oregon mailed out were cashed by their recipients.
“The biggest challenge there with people is, especially during this time of fraud and uncertainty, is making sure that they know this is a legitimate effort,” said Trust Property Administrator for the Oregon Department of State Lands Claudia Ciobanu. “There’s a reason why the state is sending them money and we want them to cash that check. Because if they don’t cash it, then it’s going to come right back here as unclaimed property.”
The same proactive approach Oregon adopted won’t work in Washington since the state doesn’t have an income tax, meaning it doesn’t have current contact information to mail checks to residents. Driver license information has proven unreliable. However, Washington plans to upgrade its unclaimed property website this spring to be more user-friendly, with the same company that Oregon has hosting its program.
“We’re going to have a fast-track program where folks that if they file a claim online and it meets certain criteria that we’ve defined, that claim will automatically get paid,” explained Unclaimed Property Administrator for the Washington State Department of Revenue Patti Wilson.
KOIN 6 also learned the states hold a large amount of money for government agencies. Oregon’s Washington County has $12,068, Clackamas County has $14,692 and Marion County has $14,825. The City of Portland has $85,638.
Ciobanu said she doesn’t believe local governments are being lazy and not retrieving the money for taxpayers. She said they’ve actually seen “a consistent pattern of them claiming it.”
“If those properties are very old, they’re not even on their accounting books anymore,” said Ciobanu. “So they are struggling with how to claim that and where to apply it.”
Overall, the State of Oregon has seen a 40% increase in people or agencies claiming their cash in the last few months. But people who file claims shouldn’t expect an instant boost to their bank account. With the high volume of claims being made, payments are taking between eight to 10 months to be sent to Oregonians.
Washington has seen more unclaimed money come in from businesses. So far in the first six months of the current fiscal year from July through December the state received $164.3 million. The state received $185.8 million for the entire prior fiscal year.
“I really can’t answer why we’re getting more,” said Wilson. “I was feeling like we were going to get less just because businesses are struggling and this might be something that would get overlooked as far as filing their unclaimed property report.”
The millions of dollars still unclaimed will continue gathering interest for Oregon and Washington. However, the original amount can never become the property of the state and is available for heirs to claim.