Op-Ed Column: Veterans Owed More than Thanks, Minnesota Owes Them Money, Too

Op-Ed Column: Veterans Owed More than Thanks, Minnesota Owes Them Money, Too

Newspapers: Please consider running this guest column from Rep. Joe Atkins and Sen. Jim Metzen in your newspaper to coincide with Veterans Day.

52B Atkins

Rep. Joe Atkins (click to download full size)

Mike Molzahn (651) 296-1774

November 11, 2015

Veterans Owed More than Thanks, Minnesota Owes Them Money, Too

By: Rep. Joe Atkins and Sen. Jim Metzen

In October, after it was announced that Minnesota is holding a record $711 million in lost and unclaimed funds, we launched an effort to find and notify residents of our legislative district of their unclaimed money.

We thought it would be hard to find people. It wasn’t.

Sen. Jim Metzen

Sen. Jim Metzen (click to download full size)

Most surprising was the disproportionate number of veterans and active duty military personnel with unclaimed funds. This makes sense if you think about it. Those serving in our military often move more, are away from home for long periods, and sometimes have tasks that take precedence over keeping track of an old bank account, a final check from a past employer, an appliance rebate or a life insurance policy of a parent or relative. All checks from insurance companies, banks, retailers and past employers that go uncashed are eventually deposited with the State in the Unclaimed Property account.

Kevin Penttila of Inver Grove Heights is one such example. Kevin is a National Guardsman, an Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran, husband, father of three, and soccer coach. He will deploy for his fourth tour of duty in January. Kevin is typical of someone who did not know the State was holding funds for him until we told him. He had $649.30 coming from an old paycheck sent to the wrong address. Kevin and his family were able to replace a broken dishwasher.

James McLean graduated from South St. Paul a decade ago and was accepted into UND’s renowned Aviation Program. He has served in the United States Air Force ever since he graduated. While he has moved quite a bit, it literally only took us 15 minutes to find him. Captain McLean now has about $700 he didn’t have before.

And it’s not just veterans and active military who are not being notified that the State is holding a record $711 million of their unclaimed and lost funds.

Take for example Jan Gustafson and Adria Smentek, who are both retired paraprofessionals who worked with special education students. Jan is a widow and is now getting over $3,000 from a life insurance policy that her mother had, but her family didn’t know about. Adria Smentek received a $9,000 life insurance policy her parents had, but nobody told her about.

All totaled, we notified over 1,000 local families of $1.7 million in unclaimed funds the State was holding for them. Most recipients of our letters had no idea they were owed money.

While the Department of Commerce deserves credit for its public awareness and outreach efforts, current state law requires no affirmative effort to find and notify Minnesotans with unclaimed funds. Nor does the State utilize full-page newspaper ads listing the names of Minnesotans with unclaimed funds like it used to. Full page ads continue to be the best way we have to notify people of their unclaimed funds. In South Dakota, they still run these ads and they’re reuniting thousands of South Dakotans with their lost and unclaimed money, while Minnesota is increasing the amount we hold each year where we don’t run ads.

For Kevin, James, Jan and Adria, and others like them, especially the veterans and active military in your life, unclaimed property can truly change their lives. If you have family or friends who are veterans or active military members, please take 90 seconds to see if they have unclaimed funds at https://mn.gov/commerce/consumers/Unclaimed-Property/. It takes little time but can make a big difference.

Also, please contact your local legislators and urge them to support our legislation to find and notify Minnesotans with unclaimed funds, and to go back to running highly successful newspaper ads to help notify Minnesotans of their unclaimed funds. We can do better for Minnesotans, especially those who stand up to defend us.