April 16 - April 22, 2015


Marylanders’ Unclaimed Funds on the Rise as State Revenue Source
The state says it’s giving away millions” but it’s raking in even more

By Annika McGinnis
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS — It was Joyce Vann’s lucky day.

The Dundalk resident had been walking by a booth that advertised it was “giving away millions” when she thought she’d try her chances — and after her name popped up in the online database listing Marylanders’ lost or forgotten funds, she got $400 in the mail.

“I used it for necessities,” said Vann, who explained she’d been struggling financially when she received it, several years ago. “They were looking for me, and I was happy to be found.”

Vann’s story is just one of many under recently re-elected state Comptroller Peter Franchot’s increased push to “reunite” Marylanders with their lost funds, turned over to the state from forgotten financial accounts.

But while the state is “giving away millions,” it’s raking in even more — through what some see as an increasingly significant revenue source to help pay for state’s everyday bills.

About 60 percent of Maryland’s unclaimed property funds — about $90 million in fiscal year 2014 — goes straight to the state’s general fund, Capital News Service found through a Public Information Act request to the state comptroller’s office.

Marylanders are missing money from abandoned insurance funds, stocks, uncashed checks, bank accounts and more, the state says. This can happen when someone accidentally pays the same bill twice, for instance, or when companies mail refunds to old addresses after the owner moves away.

Under state law, financial institutions must turn over to the state comptroller’s office any of this money after three years of no contact with the owner and unsuccessful attempts to contact them. Though companies can be headquartered anywhere, the property holder’s last address must be in Maryland.

The state holds the money in trust, indefinitely, while searching for its owners through booths at fairs, newspaper and TV ads, video campaigns and an online, searchable database.

Since 2000, the amount of money the state has accrued from so-called “unclaimed property” has soared almost 400 percent: from about $38.4 million in fiscal year 2000 to $150.4 million in fiscal year 2014, according to numbers compiled by the Maryland comptroller’s office.

Under Comptroller Franchot, who took office in 2007, the proportion of that pot the state has successfully returned to Marylanders has also jumped. Between 1999 and 2007, only about 20 to 30 percent of money remitted to the state made it back to its owners; now, about 40 percent is returned, according to the comptroller’s office.

It’s good news for both Marylanders, who get back some lost dollars, and for the state, which generally keeps whatever the original owners don’t come to collect, one unclaimed property expert said.

States generally hold no more than a fourth of the unclaimed funds to pay back potential owners coming to reclaim their money, said expert John Coalson, a partner at national law firm Alston & Bird, LLP.

Maryland retains about 40 percent to cover claims, based on calculations over 10 years of the amount of unclaimed property the state received and how much it repaid to Marylanders, state Assistant Comptroller Joseph Shapiro said.

The rest of the money is fed into a state’s general fund and used to pay the state’s bills: often for education, state employees’ salaries, transportation and more, Coalson said.

“Technically, they will repay it if owners come forward to claim it, but they rarely come forward after – and states treat it as theirs,” Coalson said.

It is becoming an increasingly important source of revenue in some states: in Delaware, it is the third-highest source of revenue in the state, Coalson said.

Sherlock Franchot’ on the Prowl

At the Maryland State Fairgrounds’ “Baby Boomer and Senior Expo” fair in late October, revenue claims examiner Faye Johnson called out to fairgoers strolling by her booth.

“Want to check if you got any cash?” she asked one man.

“Oh, sure,” he said, spelling out his name for Johnson to search in the online database.

Five minutes later, the Anne Arundel County man was smiling. He’d discovered a few hundred dollars from an old loan; he planned to use it for Christmas.

“And I was going to walk by!” he said as he left.

Since Franchot took office, the comptroller has “doubled down” on his unclaimed property efforts, said Andrew Friedson, a comptroller’s office spokesman. Revenue claims examiner Faye Johnson, who also worked under the state’s previous comptroller, said television ads and other media efforts have especially picked up.

Franchot improved the unclaimed property website, increased his presence at fairs and released quirky YouTube videos, presenting himself as a pipe-wielding “Sherlock Franchot” on the hunt for Marylanders’ money.

The comptroller also sells on eBay abandoned items left in safe deposit boxes and turned over to the state after three years. If the owner later comes to claim their property, they receive the proceeds from the auction.

In November, eBay seller “mdcompfranchot” was offering silver dime collections from World War II, a gold pocket watch and a solid gold ring spelling out “Mom” with a heart. The going rate for a 1998 Peyton Manning football card was $16.99.

“Lost property and he are bound together on a journey that will twist the very fabric of your finances,” according to “detective” Franchot’s April video on YouTube.

“I wanted to change the world -- but I’ll settle with helping you get back your money,” he said. “It’s elementary, my dear Marylanders.”

States Becoming More ‘Aggressive’

Much of the state’s stepped-up efforts center on the audit companies it hires to do the dirty work of holding companies accountable for funds they’re not reporting.

Since 2000 and especially throughout the financial crisis and its aftermath, states across the country became increasingly aggressive in using outside companies to rake in funds, the expert Coalson said.

“They love money, and it’s becoming an increasingly important revenue source for the state,” Coalson said.

One of Maryland’s longtime auditors, Xerox Corp., has brought in $186 million “for the benefit of the state and its citizens” since the mid-1980s and $10 million since 2012, company spokeswoman Jennifer Wasmer said. She said the company uses data analytics to audit companies in 48 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Maryland pays Xerox a 12 percent commission.

In October, the comptroller’s office listed that it had increased the number of hired auditing companies from five to eight, and it asked the Board of Public Works for $9.6 million more to pay them in estimated commission over the next five years. The state expected they would bring in about $90 million by Nov. 30, 2019.

Friedson in the comptroller’s office said it was “a product of success” — a result of the companies performing “well beyond the expectations.”

“That’s great news for the state and great news for Maryland taxpayers, particularly at a time in a difficult economy when folks could really use the money,” Friedson said.

The comptroller’s office was recommending the new contracts for the auditing companies because “each has the potential to collect revenue for the State of Maryland,” the board’s agenda item read.

Coalson said the auditors themselves have taken “extremely aggressive positions.” In the past, they would require a “returned mail” posting to determine a property was unclaimed, but now, often the only requirement is three years of no activity on a person’s financial account. 

Life insurance companies are also a major new source of funds. Until around 2012, they had not been reporting “unclaimed” death benefits, said Caroline Marshall, general counsel for Connecticut-based audit firm Verus Financial, which specializes on these claims and works for Maryland.

“As a result, a tremendous amount of property was identified and (went) to Maryland,” Marshall said. Of the state’s 2014 fiscal year unclaimed property revenues, life insurance made up $18.2 million, or 21 percent.

Often, states get a lot of money through “extrapolating,” or estimating, how much companies incorporated in the state would have delivered in unclaimed property for years when they don’t have information available, Coalson said.

Since that money is not tied to any real people, a state automatically gets to keep it, Coalson said.

However, though 56 percent of fiscal year 2014’s unclaimed property revenues came from corporations, the assistant comptroller Shapiro said, Maryland only accepts property tied to Maryland addresses or owners and does not estimate funds.

“At no time does the State of Maryland accept an estimate of property owed as that would only further prolong and complicate the process of returning all of the funds to the rightful owner,” Shapiro wrote in an email.

Coalson said because states continue to garner more from these funds, he does not see the trend ending anytime soon.

“It’s not sustainable,” Coalson said. “This could well be a highwater mark.”

For revenue claims examiner Johnson, giving more money back to Marylanders is simply self-gratifying. She remembered a man who “could hardly wait to get out of here” to give the money he’d discovered to his son.

“When I put a smile on somebody’s face, it puts a smile on mine,” she said.

Though Johnson herself hasn’t yet found any unclaimed properties, she won’t give up hope. Maybe one day she, too, will get lucky.

“For me — no, no, I looked a lot for me, but no, nothing for me. But I don’t give up,” she said, “because you never know.

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PGCPS Announce Last Day of School


By Press Officer

UPPER MARLBORO, MD -  Seven days of school have been missed this year by PGCPS students due to inclement weather. The PGCPS school calendar for 2014-2015 includes plans for four inclement weather make-up days on June 18, 19, 22, and 23, 2015.

To address the additional inclement weather closures beyond the build and possible addition of three inclement weather make-up days, Chief Executive Officer Dr. Kevin M. Maxwell requested a two-day waiver for PGCPS from the Maryland State Board of Education, which was granted today.

Additionally, PGCPS has decided to convert a non-instructional day on April 2 into a two-hour early release day for students. Spring break otherwise remains April 3-10 for students and teachers.

As a result, June 23 will now be the last day for students, and schools will dismiss two hours early. The last day for teachers will be June 24. June 22 will also have a two-hour early dismissal for students.

PGCPS understands school delays or closures greatly impact students, families, and staff. When making decisions to close or delay schools, the districts key focus is on the safety of students and staff. We appreciate your patience during this time.

To view the revised PGCPS 2014-15 school calendar online, please visit  http://www1.pgcps.org/communications/index.aspx?id=190935


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Prince George's County Public Schools Unveils Strategic Plan


County Executives Office

UPPER MARLBORO, MD – Prince Georges County Public Schools (PGCPS), will unveil its Strategic Plan during the Board of Education meeting at Suitland High School, located at 5200 Silver Hill Road in District Heights, on Thursday, March 26 at 7:00pm.

The Strategic Plan represents a bold promise of outstanding academic achievement for all students. By 2020, PGCPS will meet or exceed state averages for SAT and ACT scores; achieve a 90% graduation rate; and equip 100% of graduates to be ready for college and careers. College readiness is defined as meeting the requirements for entry into a two- or four year college. Career readiness is defined as meeting requirements for acceptance into a technical school or the military, and/or earning a technical license or certification which enables entry into the workforce within six months of graduation. 

The Strategic Plan contains aggressive goals and measures that demonstrate how we will hold ourselves accountable and demonstrate our continued, rapid progress as a district.  These measures will be displayed in a public report card and shared with the PGCPS community each year in an address by the CEO and other public forums.  The measures are supported by a set of key indicators and data points that will be used internally by the PGCPS team.  These key indicators and data points will demonstrate we are moving toward the goal of high academic achievement for all students.

The Strategic Plan is centered on five core areas: increasing academic excellence, developing a high performing workforce, creating safe and supportive environments, engaging with families and communities and building organizational effectiveness.

Guiding the Strategic Plan is the mission and vision that was developed by Board of Education. These important statements heavily influenced the tactics in the Strategic Plan and most importantly the accountability measures. The Strategic Plan is the transformative roadmap to achieve the PGCPS vision that outstanding academic achievement for all students, said Dr. Segun Eubanks, Chair of the Prince Georges County Public Schools Board of Education.

This Strategic Plan communicates our commitment to the parents, students, and communities of Prince Georges County. We will raise the bar and hold ourselves accountable to be sure students graduate and take advantage of college and careers. PGCPS will develop a well-educated and better-prepared workforce that contributes to thriving communities, said Dr. Kevin M. Maxwell, Chief Executive Officer of Prince Georges County Public Schools.

The plan is the result of a nearly two-year process, thousands of hours of work involving hundreds of subject matter experts inside and outside of PGCPS.  It is based on wants and needs expressed through a rigorous community input process. PGCPS will begin implementing the Strategic Plan in July 2015.  A strong emphasis on data, impeccable execution, and measurable results will be applied to ensure that PGCPS is Great by Choice."


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Mikulski Continues Jobs tour at NOAA Fighting for Federal Investments in Physical and Human Weather Infrastructure
NOAA supports more than 7,400 Maryland jobs, keeping our nation safer and Maryland’s economy stronger

By Press Officer
Office of Barbara Mikulski

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on Tuesday continued her Maryland Jobs Tour at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Senator Mikulski was joined by NOAA Administrator Kathy Sullivan and NOAA senior leaders in discussing the need for federal investments in our physical and human weather infrastructure, protecting lives and livelihoods and supporting jobs.

NOAA provides critical weather information to protect lives and livelihoods across Maryland and the nation, Senator Mikulski said. One-third of U.S. GDP is affected by climate and weather from farmers trying to protect livestock and crops, to cities relying on energy from wind turbines and solar panels, to air travelers trying to get home safely and on time through storms. Im fighting to ensure NOAA remains a priority in the federal checkbook with the respect, resources and reform needed to support weather science jobs.

A world class weather service depends on other ocean and atmospheric observations, data and research to understand our planet and predict the weather with greater precision. Forecasters rely on that science to warn us of devastating storms, saving lives and property. Natural disasters caused more than $125 billion of damage globally in 2013, with weather-related events leading the list. Earlier in 2014, the United States witnessed record breaking snowfall in parts of the Midwest and rare severe winter storms along the Gulf Coast and Southeast States.  In contrast, most of California experienced the warmest and driest weather on record earlier this year leading to severe drought conditions.

Chairwoman Mikulski, who has stood sentry over our nations weather infrastructure, has fought for significant federal investments in research and technology development that are critical to our understanding and prediction of changes in the Earths weather, climate and oceans. As Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee, she worked to ensure the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 provided increased funding to monitor and predict changes in our ocean, weather and climate.


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Bowie State Softball Sweeps Virginia State 10-5 and 13-0 in CIAA North Clash

Office of the Lt. Governor

PETERSBURG, Va. – The Bowie State University softball team picked up CIAA Northern Division victories at Virginia State University on Saturday (3/28) afternoon by scores of 10-5 and 13-0.

Freshman Emily Lewis (Aberdeen, Md.) paced the Lady Bulldogs with four hits and five RBI over the two games. Bowie State (7-11, 5-3 CIAA, 2-0 North) pounded out 28 total hits in the twin bill.

Virginia State (4-15, 2-6 CIAA, 0-2 North) had six plays to recorded two hits each in the doubleheader. Jamilia Smith (Halifax, Va.) had the biggest hit, a three-run homer in game one for the Trojans.

Bowie State wasted no time, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning of the first game. Senior Cassandra Clayborne (Damascus, Md.) started the game with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly by junior Danielle Watt (St. Leonard, Md.). Freshman pitcher Nicoleen Ochoa (Madison, Ohio) reached on a Virginia State error followed by Caitlin ONeill (Elkton, Md.) walk. Lewis stepped up and slapped a single, scoring Ochoa for a 3-0 advantage.

The Trojans took their first and only lead of game one in the bottom of the 3rd inning following a 3-run homer by Smith, giving Virginia State a 3-2 advantage.

The Lady Bulldogs pushed two more across the dish in the top of the 3rd inning to shift the advantage back over to the visitors at 4-3. However, Virginia State tied the game at 4-all in their half of the third.

Bowie States Ochoa hit her first collegiate homer of the season, a two-run blast in the top half of the 4th inning. With two outs, Lewis doubled followed by another double, this time by freshman Hannah Lewis (St. Leonard, Md.), scoring Lewis and created a small cushion at 7-4.

Virginia State added one to the scoreboard in the bottom of the 5th inning via Janay Joseph (Eastern Shore, Va.) that scored Smith.

The Lady Bulldogs added three insurance runs in the top of the 6th inning to seal the 10-5 victory. Three Virginia State 6th inning errors assisted in Bowie States scoring opportunities.

Like the first game, the Lady Bulldogs struck first in the top of the 1st inning of game two. Clayborne led off with a double and scored on three straight wild pitches for the early 1-0 lead. Watt and Ochoa followed with back-to-back triples, forcing Virginia State pitcher Rebecca Elder out of the circle.

By this point, it was clear Bowie State was on a mission and ended their share of the 1st inning with a 4-0 lead.

ONeill began the 3rd inning with a single followed by Lewis second homer of the afternoon and a 6-0 advantage.

The Lady Bulldogs blew game two wide open in the top of the 4th inning, scoring six runs on six hits and put the final nail in the Trojans coffin in the top of the 5th inning to claim the 13-0 win.

Bowie State rocked four different Virginia State pitchers, holding a 16-4 hit advantage in the final contest of the afternoon.

Clayborne and Lewis led Bowie State in game two with three hits each and five different Lady Bulldogs recorded a pair of hits each.

Bowie State returns to action on Sunday (March 29th) making a stop at conference foe Virginia Union University. First pitch of the doubleheader between the Lady Bulldogs and Lady Panthers is 12 noon.

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