The state of Idaho has $20.1 million it can’t give away.
And it has spent 35 years trying.
Every winter since 1961, the State Tax Commission circulates in area newspapers a list of thousands of people who have money being held for them by Idaho authorities.
The money is part of a state program to collect, safeguard and return lost or forgotten cash.
To get it back, people need only contact the state and ask for it.
Each year, barely half do.
In fact, in the past three-and-a-half decades, the state has collected a master list of 80,000 people to whom it still owes money.
They simply can’t be found.
“These days people are constantly on the move - job to job, city to city, state to state,” program administrator David Bergener said. “They’re harder and harder to locate.”
The money comes from dozens of sources: Old payroll checks. Proceeds from insurance policies. Overpaid utility bills. Uncashed checks. Stocks. Forgotten safe-deposit boxes. Misplaced gift certificates.
“Hypothetically, have you ever moved?” Bergener asked. “It’s entirely feasible you might have an uncollected utility deposit out there.”
But even a database of 133 million people isn’t enough to track down all the recipients, he said. Checks come in with misspelled names, incorrect addresses and transposed numbers.
“Maybe some typist accidentally hit “IA” instead of “ID” on the envelope and the check spent a year in Iowa,” he said. “Anything can happen.”
Some residents, of course, are profoundly skeptical.
After learning the state had been trying for a year to give him cash, a bemused Jace Fazzino wondered recently why his tax bill never is lost.
He was tracked down by a reporter with a single telephone call.
“You’d think they’d know how to use a phone book,” said the Bonner County man.
Other hard-to-find businesses on this year’s list include the Coeur d’Alene Press and Coeur d’Alene Honda.
Still, people usually are so happy to hear they’re owed money that tax collectors end up feeling like Santa Claus.
“Giving it away is certainly more gratifying than not,” Bergener said.
Most refunds are small - under $100 - but they occasionally hit five or six figures. An elderly southern Idaho man recently collected more than $10,000 he didn’t know he had.
“It came at a most opportune time; he lived in a nursing home and his funds were drying up,” Bergener said.
Friends recently informed Hayden Lake’s Clifford Purcell that his name was on the list. It will be another week before he learns how much he’ll collect.
“It’s really great to see someone from the government out there trying to give money back,” he said, chuckling. “That’s a switch, eh?”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Where to write Residents interested in learning if the state has money for them can write to Unclaimed Property, P.O. Box 36, Boise 83722-2240.