CFO Alex Sink's Consumer eViews NewsletterFLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
ALEX SINK'S NEWSLETTER

Volume 6 Number 36 September 4, 2009

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Dear Floridian:

As your CFO, I have worked to bring a more business-like approach to state government, pushing for increased accountability and transparency and cutting down on wasteful spending to protect your tax dollars.

That’s why this week, I was pleased that we held the first ever State Board of Administration quarterly board meeting, where the board members (Governor Crist, AG McCollum, and myself) spent several hours reviewing fund performance reports and hearing updates from the SBA’s Investment Advisory Council, Audit Committee and IG among others. This week’s meeting allowed the trustees and public to have a better understanding of the status of the $100 billion fund that our teachers, state employees and police officers depend on for their retirement.

Also this week, I was proud to announce that our Department of Financial Services will save over $210,000 annually by cutting down on wireless costs for cell phones, BlackBerries and air cards, thanks to the work of our Wireless Communications Cost Efficiency Team. I always say that cutting government waste is like peeling back the layers of an onion – which is why I will continue to encourage implementing more cost saving ideas like this one.

Have a happy Labor Day weekend,

Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Sink pulls plug on cell phones and BlackBerries, saves $210,000 annually

Florida CFO Alex Sink today announced that her department will realize savings of $210,209 in state-paid annual wireless costs by implementing the recommendations of her Wireless Communications Cost Efficiency Team’s report. CFO Sink’s cost-cutting measures represent a 37 percent reduction in annualized costs for cell phones, BlackBerries, and air cards.

“We are always looking for more efficient and cost-effective ways to do business and figuring out ways to cut cell phone and BlackBerry spending just made sense,” said CFO Sink. “We need to be doing everything we can in state government to cut waste and I am excited by the money we will save for the taxpayers of Florida.”

CFO Sink launched her team in January 2009, and in May they offered recommendations for a more responsible approach to device assignment and services based on employee usage history. By disconnecting 116 BlackBerries, 56 cellular phones, and 40 aircards that did not meet the newly established criteria, the Department of Financial Services (DFS) will realize an annual savings of $122,061. By matching employee usage to the most appropriate vendor, lowering monthly costs for air cards, and reducing unused services, DFS will realize an additional $88,148 in annual expected savings.

“I hope these cost-cutting measures serve as an example for other state agencies,” CFO Sink continued. “My number one priority here in Tallahassee is to make sure our taxpayer dollars are being used wisely, and I know my work is never done.”

For the past two years, CFO Sink has been an outspoken watchdog on behalf of Florida’s taxpayers, pursuing cost saving measures in the Department of Financial Services. Because of cost saving and efficiency measures encouraged by CFO Sink, the department is projected to save $5.3 million in 2009.

Less than a year ago, CFO Sink announced plans to consolidate the Department’s 11 consumer call centers into 2 call centers, saving millions and improving customer service. The call center consolidation took effect February 1, 2009, and has already saved nearly $727,000, with $2.25 million projected in annual, recurring savings. In March 2009, CFO Sink announced that her initiative to renegotiate existing department contracts already has saved Florida taxpayers more than $300,000.

Read the Wireless Communications Device Report.

At www.GetLeanFlorida.com, CFO Sink allows citizens to offer tips on how to cut government waste and inefficiencies. Get Lean has already received approximately 1,226 citizen suggestions since March 2009 about how state government can rein in wasteful spending and has passed these tips along to the agencies for action. Get For more information visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


SBA Trustees hold first quarterly board meeting at request of CFO Sink

At the request of Florida CFO Alex Sink, the State Board of Administration (SBA) Board of Trustees, comprising Governor Charlie Crist, CFO Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum, held their first quarterly board meeting on Tuesday. Drawing upon her nearly three decades of private-sector business experience, CFO Sink proposed holding quarterly board meetings to enhance transparency and oversight, and her motion was approved unanimously at the May 13, 2009, Cabinet meeting.

“I have long argued that it requires more than three elected officials meeting twice-a-month for fifteen minutes to oversee a $100-billion fund that our police officers, teachers and other state employees depend on for a secure retirement,” CFO Sink said. “Given the unprecedented financial environment we are currently in, we cannot lose sight of the need for increased accountability and transparency over the investments of Floridians’ money.”

Tuesday's in-depth meeting brought SBA investor advisors, staff, audit committee members, and trustees together to better safeguard Florida retirement accounts and other investments, and do the business of the SBA in the sunshine.

Holding quarterly board meetings for the SBA trustees is one of the many changes CFO Sink has recommended to bring a more modern, businesslike approach to the oversight and management of the SBA. In March 2008, CFO Sink released ten specific recommendations designed to toughen the SBA’s financial safeguards, increase transparency in SBA communications and strengthen board oversight. At the May 2009 Cabinet meeting, CFO Sink moved to initiate a quarterly board meeting and also moved to require each SBA trustee to appoint a staff member to an ad hoc workgroup charged with researching government structure models, identifying best practices, and presenting a study to the trustees on how the governance of the SBA can best serve the people of Florida.


Tampa’s Exchange Club visited by CFO Sink

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink thanked the members of Tampa’s Exchange Club on Monday for their long history of service to Tampa Bay’s children. “It’s clear to me as I look around this room today that the answers to the challenges that our state and our communities face cannot come from government alone,” said Sink. “They never have. They come from our collective and individual service to each other.”

Speaking at the August meeting of more than 100 members, Sink gave the group an update on her efforts to cut wasteful spending, Citizens Insurance Company and the importance of Florida improving its coordination to get Florida’s fare share of available dollars back from the Federal government.

“Florida has become what they call in Washington a ‘super donor state’ because we send so many tax dollars to Washington and don’t coordinate effectively to bring back Florida’s fare share,” said Sink. “Instead, New York, California and other states are getting the dollars and creating jobs in their states that we need right here, right now.”

CFO Sink issued a report on Florida’s efforts and effectiveness in securing grant and matching dollars earlier this year. The report recommends moving the responsibility for seeking grants and funding from Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection to the Governor; and coordinating more effectively with Florida’s Congressional Delegation.

The CFO closed her comments by encouraging the business leaders in attendance to help reinvent Florida’s economy and holding government accountable for creating and maintaining a balanced environment to encourage more businesses to come to Florida and create jobs.


At Health Fair, CFO Sink meets families and talks about importance of KidCare

On Saturday morning, CFO Sink visited with Florida families at the La Palma Health Fair in West Palm Beach. At the health fair, CFO had the opportunity to talk with parents, kids and doctors about why they were attending the fair and the need to ensure that every child in Florida has health insurance.

CFO Sink held a press conference with community leaders, including State Representative Mark Pafford and West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, encouraging Florida families to put KidCare enrollment on their back-to-school list. The CFO talked about the recent reforms she pushed for which make it easier than ever to get and keep Florida kids enrolled in the KidCare program.

The La Palma Health Fair was at the South Olive Community Center and more than 30 local agencies and organizations participated in the event. The fair is just one of the over 200 back-to-school events Florida KidCare representatives have participated in during the last few months to sign up more of Florida’s children for free or low-cost health insurance. To learn more about Florida KidCare, visit www.FloridaKidCare.org.


CFO Sink urges Floridians to participate in ‘National Preparedness Month’

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday urged Floridians to recognize ‘National Preparedness Month’ by making sure families, households, and businesses have a plan in place in the event of an emergency or disaster, utilizing the consumer guides, planning materials, and resources at www.MyFloridaCFO.com available in both English and Spanish.

“With the 2009 Hurricane Season in full swing, it’s imperative that Floridians to have a safety plan in place to protect our homes and families from devastation, as well as a plan to protect important financial documents and expedite recovery after any type of emergency,” said CFO Sink.

CFO Sink’s recent preparedness outreach includes launching her online Insurance Library to help Floridians get ready for the 2009 hurricane season and joining AARP to announce the Create The Good/Operation Hurricane Prepare to encourage Floridians to help their neighbors and communities prepare for storms. CFO Sink’s Division of Consumer Outreach arranges disaster preparedness presentations throughout the state.

This year National Preparedness Month is focused on changing perceptions about emergency preparedness and helping Americans understand what it truly means to be ready for a disaster, natural or man-made, or potential terrorist threat. Preparation and planning for the H1N1 virus and flu season is taking place nationwide and citizens are being encouraged to be informed about emergency plans at places where their family spends time: work, daycare and school. If no plan exists, consider volunteering to help create one.

For the business community, business continuity planning must account for all hazards (both natural and man-made disasters). Businesses should be planning in advance to manage any emergency situation. Owners should have steps in place to safeguard their assets and property, and be aware of available resources to care for co-workers and employees and the recovery of the business. This means knowing what resources are available in your local community ahead of time.

The Florida Department of Financial Services offers consumer guides, planning materials, and resources at www.MyFloridaCFO.com. Groups and organizations can arrange for a disaster preparedness presentation by contacting the Division of Consumer Outreach at (850) 413-3089. Information on National Preparedness Month can be found at www.ready.gov. Floridians may also reach the department at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO which provides service in Spanish as well as English.


CFO Sink saves jobs, protects consumers after insurance company liquidated

Transition Plan Set for First Commercial Will Preserve Jobs

Florida CFO Alex Sink announced today that the Department of Financial Services has saved more than 100 jobs and protected approximately 15,000 Florida policyholders by successfully negotiating a transition plan for the policyholders of First Commercial Insurance Company (FCIC) and First Commercial Transportation and Property Insurance Company (FCTPIC). These insurers were ordered into liquidation by Leon County Circuit Court on August 24, 2009.

As stated by a Court Order signed today, Miami-based Ascendant Commercial Insurance, Inc. will offer replacement coverage to most of the policyholders and will employ many of the former employees of First Commercial.

“Our department has worked diligently to ensure that many employees were offered positions with the new company and that Florida policyholders were protected,” said CFO Sink. “Especially in these challenging times, it was important to us to save these jobs and allow for an orderly transition for consumers.”

The effective date of the new policy with Ascendant will be September 23, 2009, or upon expiration of the policyholder’s coverage with FCIC/FCTPIC, whichever event occurs sooner. Ascendant’s strategic focus will be to serve the small- to medium-sized business owner in the State of Florida with a full menu of insurance products including workers' compensation, general liability, commercial vehicle, garage keepers and for-hire transportation. Ascendant will not initially be offering policies in the following lines of business: commercial multi-peril, monoline commercial automobile, warranty, errors and omissions, and medical malpractice.

The Court Order also stipulates that policyholders, except for the lines not provided new coverage from Ascendant, will receive an introduction letter within five days of commencement, a pre-filled application and premium quote based on FCIC and FCTPIC policy data using Ascendant rates, and an invoice. This documentation will be mailed to customers no later than September 15, 2009.

FCIC wrote workers’ compensation, commercial auto, general liability and commercial multi-peril insurance policies in Florida and Georgia. FCTPIC wrote commercial auto insurance coverage in Florida. Together, the companies at one time had approximately 18,000 in-force policies. The Florida Department of Financial Services has acted as the appointed receiver of both FCIC and FCTPIC since July 10, 2009, when the companies consented to be placed in receivership for the purpose of rehabilitation. By Court Order, all automobile service warranty policies written by FCIC were cancelled as of August 24, 2009, the date of liquidation.

For more information regarding the offer from Ascendant Commercial Insurance, Inc., consumers may call the company’s Florida consumer service hotline at (305) 820-4360. For other questions, Floridians can call CFO Sink’s consumer help line at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-My-FL-CFO or visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


Read The Advocate's Advice newsletter from Florida's Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw

The Advocate's Advice is a great way for Sean Shaw, Florida's Insurance Consumer Advocate (ICA), to communicate directly with the insurance consumers of this state.

Do you need help understanding how to navigate the managed care process? Have you ever seen a newspaper ad for a “Free Lunch Seminar” and wondered about its legitimacy? In this edition, you will learn more about these topics, as well as other consumer-oriented initiatives that are being pursued by the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate.

An additional topic included in the newsletter deals with potential assessments to your insurance premiums in the event of a hurricane. Do you know how much you could be assessed? Are you a Citizens policyholder? Do you also pay premiums for business-related insurance? This newsletter will explain how to get an estimate of your assessments.

You can subscribe to the ICA newsletter and read the previous issue from newsletter links.


State Fire Marshal Sink announces arson arrest for Hialeah kitchen fire

Fire Initially Defined as Accidental; New Leads Determine Arson

Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink last Friday announced the arrest of a Hialeah woman who has been charged with arson and insurance fraud for intentionally setting fire to her kitchen and submitting fraudulent insurance claim.

Ysaris Diaz, 37, was arrested this afternoon and booked into the Miami Dade County Jail. The arrest is the result of an investigation by the State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, with assistance from the Hialeah Fire and Police Departments and Citizens Insurance Company.

“Arson is a serious crime that puts innocent citizens and rescue personnel at great risk,” said CFO Sink. “I commend the detectives who have worked this case, and urge citizens to report any suspicions or information regarding arson so we can hold criminals accountable for their violent and costly actions.”

A fire occurred on August 13, 2009. Hialeah Fire Department arrived on scene, extinguished the fire, and at the time saw no suspicious indicators that the fire was intentionally set. On August 19, a Citizens Insurance adjuster called the State Fire Marshal’s office, after a site visit to Diaz’s home, with concerns that the fire may not have been accidental.

After a Citizen’s Insurance investigator took pictures of the home, the Hialeah Fire Department was asked to review the images and found major discrepancies. While the only damage to the home at the time of the fire was in the kitchen, the pictures showed fire damage in other areas of the house – which were determined to be separate and unrelated to the kitchen fire. CFO Sink’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations executed a search warrant this morning at Diaz’s home and after investigating the damage, it was confirmed that arson was the cause of the kitchen fire.

Diaz was arrested without incident and faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted. This is the second arrest related to kitchen fires in Hialeah worked by the BFAI Miami field office within the past few months.

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is a law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin.  Anyone with information about arson or any suspicious incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NO-ARSON). Rewards are offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.


Understanding the Managed Care Grievance Process

By Sean Shaw, Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate

If you are insured through a managed care plan such as a health maintenance organization (HMO), an exclusive provider organization (EPO), a prepaid health clinic (PHC) or a prepaid health plan (PHP), you have special rights. These rights come into play when claims or medical services are denied by your managed care plan.

Your managed care plan is required by law to notify you of your appeal rights and procedures when service or care is denied. First, you can file an appeal with the plan itself. There is usually a two level appeal process. Once you have completed the plan’s internal appeal process, if you are still not satisfied, you may request an informal hearing with the Subscriber Assistance Panel (SAP). The SAP is a panel of various state agency representatives who will review your case and provide a recommendation to either the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), or the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) regarding what action, if any; the plan must take to comply with its duties to you. continued...


Q. What is a Florida Housing Help workshop?

A. FHH workshops were developed by CFO Alex Sink to fight foreclosures in Florida by providing struggling homeowners with resources and information to help them determine their best option for avoiding foreclosure. The workshops provide an opportunity to talk directly to representatives from mortgage companies, financial institutions, HUD, and local assistance organizations as well as experts on a variety of relevant topics including short sales, force-placed coverage and mortgage fraud.

Q. Who should attend a FHH workshop?
A. Anyone who is in the foreclosure process, is facing the possibility of foreclosure or wants to learn more to protect their home from foreclosure.

Q. What do I need to bring with me to a FHH workshop?
A. Homeowners will need to bring copies of the following documents to leave with their lender:
• Two most recent paycheck stubs for all household applicants. • Two most recent checking and savings account monthly statements. • Drivers License or picture ID of applicant(s). • Social Security cards for applicants/co-applicants. • Income tax returns for current year along with W-2 forms. If self employed, proof of quarterly tax payments for the last four quarters and two years signed and dated income tax returns. • Hardship Letter of explanation for any explanation of delinquency of mortgage payments and any gap of employment during the last two years. • Divorce papers, if applicable. • Statements documenting ALL monthly household expenses, i.e., telephone, cable, utilities, etc. • Last mortgage statement / year-end summary. • Most recent correspondence from Mortgage Company. • Current property tax bill and proof of Hazard (Homeowners) Insurance. • It is helpful, but not necessary, for homeowners seeking assistance who have access to the Internet to go to www.annualcreditreport.com and request a free credit report. Please note that signing up for any other service, including a credit score is not necessary. All that is needed is the free credit report.

Q. Will my request for a refinance or a modification be granted at the event?
A. Possibly. If your lender is at the event, it is possible to have your refinance or modification completed at the workshop. If your lender is not at the workshop, HUD counselors will begin the process and work with the lender on your behalf.

Q. Are there any tips or facts I need to know about foreclosure and mortgage fraud prevention?
A. Consumers can visit the FHH Web site to find information about facts and myths of the foreclosure process and what consumers can do to protect themselves. Find our Foreclosure Fact Sheet at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/FloridaHousingHelp/Docs/FHHForeclosureFactSheet.pdf 

Q. Where can I go to find a calendar of FHH workshops around the state?
A.
You can go to the Florida Department of Financial Services Web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click on the Florida Housing Help button on the right hand side of the page.


Cashed in a clunker? Time to upgrade your auto insurance

Recently, the Cash Allowance Rebate System (C.A.R.S.) program commonly known as “Cash for Clunkers” ended. The U.S. Department of Transportation reported the program generated close to 700,000 new car sales. These new car owners should take the time to review their auto insurance coverage and talk with their agent to ensure they have adequate coverage to protect their new financial interest.

For comprehensive information on auto insurance and optional coverage, please go to http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/Guides/Auto/index.htm.
Below is a summary of required coverage and important considerations.

Florida law requires all registered vehicle owners to provide coverage for a minimum of $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection (PIP) and $10,000 in Property Damage Liability. PIP covers the named insured and their resident relatives for medical expenses, disability benefits and a $5,000 death benefit. Property Damage Liability covers physical damage of tangible property of another person, including loss of use, if you are legally liable for the loss.

Remember, if your vehicle is financed through a bank or other lending institution, they may require you to carry Collision and Comprehensive coverage on the vehicle. Collision covers your vehicle for property damage regardless of fault. So, even if you rear-end someone, Collision will pay for the damage to your vehicle less any deductible you select.

Comprehensive Coverage, sometimes known as Other Than Collision Coverage, pays for property damage to your vehicle caused by anything other than collision after your deductible is satisfied. If you hit a deer, a tree or tree limb falls on your vehicle, your vehicle is stolen or vandalized, or your vehicle catches on fire or floods, you must have Comprehensive Coverage on your policy for your insurance company to pay for the damages. Also, it is important to know that Florida law requires insurance companies to waive your deductible under your Comprehensive Coverage if they replace a broken front windshield.

Coverage for customized equipment is normally excluded by an auto policy. If you have customized equipment, you should purchase additional coverage from your agent to cover those items. You should also ask your agent how a claim for the customized equipment will be paid. Many policies will pay the actual cash value of these items instead of the replacement cost. Actual cash value is determined by subtracting depreciation from the cost to replace the item.


My Family CFO

Are you the chief financial officer of your family? Are you always looking out for the best deals, wise investments and smart moves for your family's financial security?

As your family's fiscal watch dog, keep an eye on this column for money-smart ideas from the Chief Financial Officer of Florida, Alex Sink.

If you have a creative way to be fiscally smart, share it with us for this column!

MyFamilyCFO@MyFloridaCFO.com

Young, broke and in debt - learn about 'your life, your money'

Young people today are being met with the extraordinary challenges of finding a job in an overcrowded job market. Add to that student loans and other debt racked up in college and it is a perfect storm for financial disaster. But there are things young people can do to weather the storm and improve their financial outlook.

On September 9 at 9:00 p.m. PBS will air a special titled “Your Life, Your Money” that encourages young adults to get their financial lives together and keep their finances straight. The special includes information on a range of personal finance topics including managing your credit, investing and budgeting. Viewers will learn how to start saving and get insured. You can catch a preview of the program here.

The program features host Donald Faison, who plays the wacky surgeon on "Scrubs" and hip-hop and fashion mogul Russell Simmons.

For other tips and resources to improve your financial literacy, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com and play Financial Football.


SAVING ENERGY, SAVING MONEY
Energy tips for Florida families - these actions represent ways to behave kindly toward Mother
Earth, AND save money as well
as energy. These tips are presented by CFO Alex Sink's science advisor Meg Lowman, Ph.D., on the faculty at New College of Florida. Dr. Lowman has written numerous award-winning books and is an expert
on the rainforests of the world.

Learn about the Chronology of Decomposition versus Recycling

Recycling is important for 3 reasons – it saves money to re-use materials, it preserves natural landscapes to minimize trash and refuse areas, and it conserves finite resources.

Do some family homework, and research the various decomposition times for different materials in your community. The answers may also change your views on buying, disposing, and consuming different commodities. Some average decomposition times for North America include:

Timelines of break-down vary with weather, soil, moisture, and density of trash. But overall, think twice about throwing away items that could be re-used, saving valuable dollars in your household or your business budgets.