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Former State Senator Michael Frerichs became familiar with Illinois’ unclaimed property program as soon as he became the state treasurer just over two years ago.
And in a personal way.
“When I came into office on the first day, there was a form on my desk that said ‘treasurer, you’re in charge of unclaimed property; why don’t you claim your own,’’” Frerichs told a small gathering in Monticello on Feb. 3.
Sure enough, a quick check of icash.illinoistreasurer.gov showed $25 in unclaimed property – a PayPal transaction he was unaware of.
He is now fully familiar with I-Cash, which distributed a record $155 million in unclaimed property in fiscal year 2016 – including life insurance and dividends that were distributed after a loved ones death.
But giving away money isn’t as easy as it sounds, mainly because the populace is conditioned to be wary of scams, especially when there is the promise of a monetary payout.
“I didn’t think this would be a big part of my job. Giving away money sounds pretty easy,” said Frerichs. “It’s the hardest part of my job.”
Letters to recipients are usually seen as junk mail, and those on the other end of the phone line often hang up.
His advice in distinguishing between true I-Cash calls and scam artists?
“If anyone asks for a cut or a fee or percentage, it’s not us,” he commented. “We don’t charge a dime; we don’t charge any fees.”
The statewide database of unclaimed property can also be searched online. In his stop at Monticello’s municipal building, Frerichs told success stories that ranged from a few dollars to $38,000 in found cash that had been left to a Chicago-area church 14 years earlier.
The state treasurer also informed the six people gathered in Monticello about a new program aimed at helping the disabled of the state. The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) program, launched just last month, allows families to save up to $14,000 per year and a total of $100,000 for disabled children without losing federal benefits.
Prior to the change, those with disabilities could have no more than $2,000 in assets. Having more would jeopardize their Social Security and other benefits, a great worry for parents who wanted to leave something to their children.
“They were leaving their children in poverty in order for them to be able to survive and take care of themselves,” said Frerichs.
“This is a great program,” commented Monticello attorney Jim Ayers. “In our local, rural communities there is a lot of need for that, because the cost of setting up that kind of thing is just too expensive, too onerous.”
He suggested the state partner with mental health facilities to get the word out, “because they would be dealing with people who are more inclined to use it.”
Initially the ABLE program was a tough sell in Illinois, especially to financial institutions who would manage it. So Frerichs increased the possible pool of users from 35,000 in Illinois to about 500,000 by partnering with 13 other states.
Frerichs also bragged on Illinois’ prepaid college tuition programs, Bright Start and Bright Beginnings, which have been upgraded by Morningstar ratings even as the state’s financial rating continues to drop.
“If a kid has a college savings account they’re seven times more likely to go to college,” he said, citing a Washington University study. “It makes sense, because if you set expectations high for your children, they tend to try and strive for them. If you set expectations low, they tend to try to reach them as well. We want to set high expectations.”
A Gifford native who now lives in Champaign, Frerichs also discussed efforts to compel insurance companies to search for beneficiaries. His office spearheaded legislation approved last year that mandates insurance companies periodically use the federal Death Master File to confirm a policyholder has not passed away.
New legislation introduced last month would require insurers to also search he index for all policies that were in effect back to 1996.