Government agencies, owed money held in Missouri's $700 million unclaimed property fund, are failing to collect and use their cash, according to a KCTV5 investigation.
When North Kansas City resident, Anthony Cattaneo logged on to Missouri's online unclaimed property fund at showmemoney.com, he never expected to find a fortune. He was just doing a regular check of the site, making sure he collected any money meant for him.
"I never find anything for myself," Cattaneo said, "but I found my family members on there. I found my mom. I found my brother."
Cattaneo also stumbled upon a sizeable amount of money while trying to search for a friend's name.
"One of my friend's last names is Clay. So I was searching and I found Clay County Circuit Court."
In fact, Cattaneo's search for the word Clay produced more than $1,500 in unclaimed government funds, money Clay County could easily claim by filling out a few forms.
"Once I found that there I thought, 'what else is out there?'" Cattaneo said.
KCTV5 investigative reporter Stacey Cameron logged on to the state website to see if other agencies could be found with money coming their way. In less than 30 minutes, Cameron discovered more than $50,000 in unclaimed cash listed as the property of federal, state and local agencies, including Kansas City, MO.
"The park department, the police department, the school district," Cameron said while reading down the list posted on the computer screen.
That $50,000 figure of unclaimed government funds is a low estimate. Each time an account accrues more than $50, the computer screen caps the display at $50 instead of the actual total. The state treasurer's office said the average return on unclaimed property is $300. If that math holds true, KCTV5 has uncovered closer to $150,000 wasting away instead of being used to fund programs used by Missouri residents.
"That could be a lot of money to solve some budget problems; to hire an extra police officer, to hire an extra secretary to do some work. And you're not using it," Cattaneo said. "Why not? I make sure my budget is in order. I get all my money. Why aren't you getting your money?"
To get some answers about the tens of thousands of dollars owed to local, state and federal agencies, Cameron headed to Jefferson City where he met with the director of unclaimed property, Scott Harper.
Harper explained the government cash found in the unclaimed property fund comes in the same way it does for individuals.
"It comes from companies where they've not been able to locate or get the money back to them," Harper said. "It could be an uncashed check; it could be a utility refund. Anything like that where a financial instrument hasn't been negotiated within that five-year period, gets turned over to us."
Once the money is turned over to the unclaimed property fund, Harper said a postcard is mailed to each government entity, making them aware of the available money.
When it comes to collecting their cash, "Some do a better job than others," Harper said. "Some of them do it regularly – five, six times a year. Some will do it every year or two."
Harper said the steady stream of misdirected mail, carrying government money to the wrong address or agency, means even the agencies that collect their cash more often will soon have more outstanding.
"We could pay every penny out today and you could go back out tomorrow and you're going to find more," Harper said.
While in Jefferson City, Cameron stopped by the Department of Social Services and the governor's offices to let them know about the $19,000 and $4,000 respectively they are owed.
At the Department of Revenue, an agency that's usually pretty good at collecting cash, the news of outstanding monies brought a laugh.
"We found that you guys have about $1,600 of unclaimed money," Cameron said to Department of Revenue PIO Ted Farnen.
"Oh the department does?" asked Farnen.
"Yeah," Cameron said.
Farnen replied with a laugh and an "OK."
While Cattaneo was glad to hear most of the government cash eventually gets claimed, he still wonders why collection can't be 100 percent when the money is so easily found.
"I would think a government would want all of its money accounted for," Cattaneo said.
All told, KCTV5 uncovered 20 state and 13 federal agencies owed money on showmemoney.com. When citizens discover money owed to a government agency, there is a link for them to send an email notifying the government of the uncollected cash. KCTV5 has done that with the federal, state and local agencies it found with outstanding money.
Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.