ACA.kennedyvisit.013.053019

Sen. John Kennedy meets with representatives of the Seventh District Baptist Association and pastors of two of three historically black Baptist churches burned in a string of arsons in St. Landry Parish Wednesday, May 29, 2019, in Opelousas, La.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Treasury Department will expand efforts to pay out the nearly $26 billion in matured, unclaimed savings bonds that haven’t been claimed, after U.S. Sen. John Kennedy pressed the federal agency on the issue.

Kennedy, R-Madisonville, made a name for himself in Louisiana politics by giving people back their own money through the state treasurer’s unclaimed property fund. Recently, he turned his attention to U.S. Savings Bonds, including about $340 million in Louisiana, that have not been paid out.

A Treasury spokesman confirmed the agency’s plans to create an online tool that will allow people to check whether they have unredeemed savings bonds dated after 1974. The information will also be shared with state treasurers to promote through Unclaimed Property Program websites.

Treasury also has agreed to study how to digitize information on older savings bonds so that information can eventually be shared.

“This money belongs in the hands of the American people. It shouldn’t be under lock and key at Treasury. Grandmothers purchased these bonds for grandchildren. Great aunts and great uncles bought bonds to support the war effort,” Kennedy said Wednesday.

Kennedy, joined by Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, has proposed legislation to give states access to records about the owners of matured, unredeemed savings bonds sitting in the U.S. Treasury so that bondholders' names and addresses can be added to existing Unclaimed Property databases.

Kennedy said he spoke to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin last week about the effort, which he has repeatedly highlighted in recent weeks.

U.S. Savings Bonds, a form of loan to the federal government, were heavily promoted during World War II as a patriotic way for Americans to support the war. For many years they remained in a paper format but have since become available electronically.

In its simplest form, savings bonds are purchased for a lower denomination — $50 or $100 — and mature in 20 to 40 years to twice that amount. No annual interest is given, and it's presented as a lump sum payout after they have matured.

Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, tucked his savings bond legislation into an advancing appropriations bill. He also helped add $25 million for digitizing the bond records to the spending bill.

"The bond might be lost, the physical bond in the days when we used paper bonds, and the people who loaned the money to the federal government might have forgotten about the bonds," Kennedy said, during one of his speeches on the Senate floor on the matter. "But you know who knows about the bonds? The United States Department of Treasury because they've got the names and the addresses, and right now they've got the money — $26 billion that they are holding that belongs to the American people, and they won't give it back."

Kennedy was Louisiana's state treasurer for 17 years before he was elected to the Senate and oversaw the state's Unclaimed Property rolls in that capacity.

He promoted the program through public appearances and advertisements, ultimately returning more than $300 million to Louisiana residents in forgotten financial assets, such as utilities deposits, abandoned checking and savings accounts, uncashed checks and other sources that had fallen into the state government's hands.

Email Elizabeth Crisp at ecrisp@theadvocate.com and follow on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.