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State Comptroller tackling backlog of unclaimed property inquiries

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — We could all use a little extra cash, right? The State of Texas may be holding on to money that belongs to you.

Each state, including Texas, has policies and procedures in place to protect your money from reverting back to financial institutions or companies where your accounts are left unused for a long period of time. Businesses and government entities are required to report those funds to the state, which then hangs on to that money until the rightful owner comes forward and proves ownership.

Unclaimed property can take the form of money in bank accounts, stocks or bonds, gift cards, or security deposits. It can also be overpayments on insurance, utilities, and other bills. Comptroller Glenn Hegar administers the state's $4 Billion unclaimed property program.

"We're probably processing a thousand claims a day in our office," Comptroller's office spokesperson Kevin Lyons said. The agency launched a new website in 2017, ClaimItTexas.org, to help Texans search for and claim their property that had entered into the state system. Lyons said the site gets around 250,000 web hits each month.

"Prior to the launch of our new website, most folks when they tried to claim property, it'd be a form, a mail-in, a piece of paper they'd have to mail in, and a lot of steps to go through, and so if you only got 25 dollars of grandma's stock somewhere, do you want to go through all the work to claim that," Lyons said. "(Now) you can just type your name in and it doesn't take that long to figure out 'hey there's a hundred dollars that belongs to me, I'd like to get that.'"

In 2000, the state returned just over $45 million back to rightful owners. In 2018, more than $240 million was returned. 2017 was a record year, when $280,423,969.97 was returned.

"We have to beef up our staff so that we can handle all of the requests for unclaimed property, and so that's been a process," Lyons said. "We hope to have it ironed out in the next couple weeks."

In May 2018, a viewer wrote the system was "backlogged" and the Comptroller's office was "telling claimants for unclaimed property to wait until October best case which would have been 6 months from when I submitted the claim."

Last week, another viewer shared that he submitted a claim in June 2018.

"Comptroller website has no update, though there is confirmation claim has been received," he wrote. "When calling the Comptroller you get recording saying they have a backlog and cannot handle inquiries."

Lyons said his team aims to cut down on wait times.

"We want to get it back down to 1-2 weeks and we think we'll have the done in due time," he explained.

"Sometimes the lines are backed up but we encourage people to keep calling," Lyons said.

State Senator Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, wants to see more governmental transparency and accountability. Last week, she filed a package of legislation, including a bill that would create an online system for tax information, similar to the unclaimed property website.

"I’d like it to go through the comptrollers office to be a one stop shop for any taxpayer," Campbell said.

"If we have a data warehouse that is housed in the "Comptroller's office for the sole purpose of providing tax information for an address or whoever lives at that address, I do think it will help," Campbell explained. "Your name will go in there also and hopefully that will help us be able to find folks who are looking for revenues owed to them but primarily it’s a resource for taxpayers to go to to find out who is taxing them and how much that is."

Rebecca Powers, who has filed multiple property claims said she did not have any recommendations for the state on how to expedite the process, but urged Texans to persist.

"I’ve had good and bad experiences," she said. "Keep plugging away if you want the money, if you think it belongs to you and you’re entitled to it, just keep at the process."

To find out if the State of Texas owes you property, visit ClaimItTexas.org.


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