What happens to all those unused gift cards

Gift cards alone are not a massive revenue source for any state, but with many regions facing budget cuts, any extra wiggle room helps. Earlier this year, Claire Levy, who served in the Colorado legislature before becoming executive director of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy in 2013, pushed the state’s lawmakers to borrow money from its unclaimed-property fund—which had grown to $116 million—in order to pay for affordable housing.

“Colorado chronically has budget issues,” Levy tells me. “Public education is pitted against health care, which is pitted against child protective services, on and on and on.”

Although some opponents in the Colorado House of Representatives charged that Levy was “spending someone else’s money,” as one legislator put it to The Colorado Sun, Colorado citizens take back only about 40 percent of unclaimed property within 20 years. In 2015, the nationwide return rate was roughly the same: 42 percent. If the money just sits there, why not use it?

Legal advocates such as Levy see this approach as the future. “Are we just going to continue to just lock that money away and let it pile up and pile up and pile up?” she says. “It just makes no sense when we need to fund housing, when we need to fund mental health care, when we need so many other things taken care of.”