Volume 7 Number 8 February 19, 2010
Having spent nearly three decades as a business leader before becoming Florida's CFO, I know there are "best practices" that can increase efficiency and cut costs in state government.
That's why this week I tapped into my business experience and announced a new initiative that has the potential to save Florida taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars simply by reorganizing management and increasing the number of state employees a manager supervises. In my own Department of Financial Services, we are already implementing this change -- expected to save us up to $10 million annually -- and it is my hope that other government agencies will adopt this proven cost-savings measure.
Also this week, I met with area small business owners in Tampa, for a roundtable discussion on the challenges they are facing and how state government can support small businesses in Florida.
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink’s statewide ‘Safeguard Our Seniors’ blitz last week drew 350 seniors to workshops and led to new investigations into senior investor fraud. Partnering with AARP Florida, Veterans Affairs, and the Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar, CFO Sink held public workshops in eleven Florida cities to draw attention to the need for tougher laws that will hold those who prey on Florida’s seniors accountable.
“We need tougher laws on the books, but unfortunately some politicians in Tallahassee have been protecting the special interests, not our seniors’ interests,” said CFO Sink. “As we heard from the hundreds of Florida seniors we met with in the last week, senior investors are losing their life savings, deceitful agents are operating undeterred, and it’s time to take action. Nothing should stand in the way of holding these senior scammers accountable for their actions, especially not the special interests and unresponsive politicians.”
For the third year in a row, CFO Sink has proposed Safeguard Our Seniors legislation to strengthen senior investor fraud laws. Senator Mike Bennett and Representative Maria Sachs have sponsored the 2010 legislation (SB 844), which comes after another 277 complaints from seniors just about annuity fraud in the last year. During the 2009 session, CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors legislation passed the Florida Senate unanimously, but was not heard in a House Committee. This year’s legislation has already passed its first Senate committee.
In the last two years, CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has held nearly 400 ‘Safeguard Our Seniors’ workshops throughout the state, including eleven last week as part of a statewide workshop blitz. At the workshops, seniors are informed about how to protect themselves from financial fraud. The programs have helped Florida seniors recover nearly $9 million, and helped put some senior scammers behind bars.
Representatives from the Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force partnered with CFO Sink to put on the statewide Safeguard Our Seniors blitz, and commended CFO Sink’s work to protect seniors:
AARP Florida State Director Lori Parham: “As Florida works to re-energize its economy, it is important to assure older Floridians that the Sunshine State will crack down hard on those who threaten their financial security. AARP is pleased that this week’s activities have heightened awareness of the risks of financial fraud.”
Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs Executive Director LeRoy Collins Jr.: “The Sunshine State is home to nearly 750,000 veterans who are 65 or over. In combating financial fraud, Florida’s veterans are well served by the advice and counsel offered by CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force.”
Jana McConnaughhay, secretary, Florida Bar Elder Law Section: “The members of the Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar, which represents thousands of Florida seniors each year, witness exploitation of this vulnerable group on a daily basis. We are incredibly appreciative of CFO Sink's efforts to add teeth to the laws protecting seniors and support those efforts completely.”
On Wednesday, February 24, Senator Charlie Justice will hold a town hall meeting at the Largo Community Center. According to Sen. Justice, ensuring that our state and community are providing the services and protections our seniors need should be a top concern for everyone. It is because these issues are of such importance, he will be hosting a town hall style meeting to discuss the issues affecting our seniors the most. To address questions, Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Douglas Beach, Executive Director of the Area Agency on Aging Sally Gronda, and CFO Sink’s “Safeguard Our Seniors” program coordinator Linda Smart will be in attendance. For details on Senator Justice's Town Hall Meeting, read here.
To learn more about CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force, learn what to consider when purchasing annuities, or read the stories of senior victims, please visit www.flseniors.net. Floridians who believe they may have been the victim of annuity fraud should call (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877- 693-5236) or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com to file a complaint.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday announced new reforms to streamline middle management in her agency, creating greater efficiency and saving $8 to $10 million a year. At a press conference announcing her changes, CFO Sink called on other agencies in state government to adopt her reforms, which could save the state as much as $277 million.
“Government efficiency doesn't have to be an oxymoron -- not if you take a businesslike approach to managing our state,” said CFO Sink. “Too often in government, the rule seems to be ‘bigger is better’, but in business, I learned that smarter is better. By streamlining middle management we can make government more efficient, more effective and save millions of taxpayer dollars.”
CFO Sink announced that as agency managers resign or retire, the positions will be eliminated, and the structure will be reengineered using existing staff to cut unnecessary layers in government. The achievement of a 7:1 employee to manager ratio will put the Department in line with best business practices and save an estimated $8 to $10 million annually and as much as nearly $300 million if adopted throughout state government.
With the current budget shortfall facing the state, CFO Sink emphasized the need for a smart, businesslike approach to waste cutting. By streamlining management jobs, funding for essential services for the citizens of Florida and frontline positions will be protected.
“Streamlining middle management will save millions of dollars, make government more effective, and protect our teachers, police officers, and employees who are on the frontlines serving the people of Florida,” CFO Sink continued. “This smart, common-sense streamlining would allow the state to save almost $300 million, and at a time when Florida is stretched thin it’s something that should be done statewide.”
CFO Sink has been an outspoken watchdog on behalf of Florida’s taxpayers. Because of common-sense cost saving and efficiency measures taken by CFO Sink, her Department of Financial Services saved over $5 million in 2009 alone. Other waste cutting measures include consolidating the Department’s 11 consumer call centers into 2 call centers, renegotiating existing contracts, and cutting Department wireless costs by 37 percent. At www.GetLeanFlorida.com, citizens can offer tips on how to cut government waste and inefficiencies. For more information on CFO Sink’s common-sense waste cutting, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
Florida CFO Alex Sink held a small business roundtable focused on job creation in Tampa on Thursday with 15 small business owners and community partners.
“Responding to the concerns of Florida's small business owners is a key part of what it is going to take to grow jobs and help jumpstart our economy,” said CFO Sink. “I am committed to ensuring that the state is doing everything it can to support our state's entrepreneurs and small business owners."
During the discussion, participants focused on challenges to job creation, especially access to credit in an unpredictable economic climate.
One small business owner called Florida the “small business capital of the world,” underscoring the significance of CFO Sink’s efforts to support small businesses.
Last year, CFO Sink personally contacted the five largest banks in Florida to find out why entrepreneurs were having such a difficult time securing credit and sent a letter to 167 community banks in Florida to encourage participation in the expanded Small Business Lending Initiative. She has also requested that the Office of Financial Regulation monitor small business lending activity in Florida and make regular reports to members of the Florida Cabinet.
The event was hosted by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and also included participants from the Small Business Development Center at USF, the Hillsborough County Small Business Information Center, and the Small Business Administration. These community partners have been credited with helping many local companies launch and prosper during tough economic times by partnering small businesses owners with more experienced mentors.
The following small business owners were also in attendance: Holly Tomlin, Tomlin Tested Staffing; Jennifer Bakunas, Magnetic; Paige Simpson, Simpson Air; Juan Davis, Fast Lane Clothing Company; Lisa Huetteman, Black Diamond Associates, LLC; Peter Anderson, Bayshore Technologies, Inc.; Evan Brownstein, Bright Monkey Marketing, Inc.; Kim DeBosier, Bayside Engineering, Inc.; Jeffrey Mount, Wright's Gourmet House; and Sol Davis, Sol Davis Printing.
On Thursday, CFO Sink delivered remarks to a crowd of over 350 at the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange annual awards banquet in Sarasota. After her introduction by Senator Mike Bennett, CFO Sink spoke to the group about positive trends in the area’s real estate market, including 16 consecutive months of increased home sales activity. She cited the expansion of the Small Business Administration loan guarantee program as a boost to the area, which has helped small business lending in Southwest Florida to grow by more than $10 million of new capital coming into the market.
CFO Sink also shared her ideas on how Florida can build a stronger, more innovative and diverse economy and discussed some of the ways she has worked to cut costs and increase efficiency in state government.
On Wednesday, CFO Sink met with members of the Florida Retail Federation as part of their “Retail Days” at the Capitol. CFO Sink opened the discussion by asking the members how their businesses were faring in this economy, and also discussed the many steps she has taken to support small businesses in Florida, including opening up access to credit.
Retail is Florida’s second largest industry. The state has over 100,000 retail businesses that employ nearly 20 percent of the state's workforce, pay more than $33 billion in wages annually and collect and remit more than $20 billion in revenues.
Each of Florida’s 67 counties has a Clerk of the Circuit Court who provides the checks and balances in county government, and this week, the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers heard from CFO Sink at a meeting in Tallahassee. In her remarks to the group, CFO Sink expressed her concern about a new law passed by the Legislature last year that requires county courts to pay an eight percent trust fund service charge. She also shared with the group some of the businesslike measures that she’s implemented in the Department of Financial Services, which have saved Florida taxpayers over $5 million in just the past year, and discussed some of her ideas for reinvigorating Florida’s economy.
As spring time and travel season rapidly approach, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate would like to share with the citizens of Florida some information on purchasing health insurance for overseas travel.
While most health insurance policies cover emergency services rendered within the United States, Canada, Mexico, and U.S. territories, it is important to note that most policies exclude coverage beyond those boundaries. Becoming seriously ill or injured overseas could leave consumers personally responsible for their medical expenses. In the event a patient needs to be evacuated back to the United States, evacuation costs can easily rise to $50,000.
Some health insurance polices may cover “usual and customary” emergency hospital costs overseas, but most policies exclude such coverage. Further, Medicare and Medicaid also exclude emergency medical treatment overseas.
To prevent any issues regarding health insurance coverage while overseas, there are some steps consumers should take prior to traveling abroad to ensure they don’t find themselves saddled with exorbitant health care fees:
Short-term emergency health coverage available through a travel health insurance policy is beneficial and may include other coverage, including trip cancellation coverage and lost luggage coverage. While travel insurance policies can offer travelers peace of mind, there are some guidelines that should be considered prior to purchasing this type of insurance.
If you have any questions regarding health insurance while traveling abroad you should contact the Division of Consumer Services within the Department of Financial Services on-line at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/ or by phone at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236), toll-free in Florida, and (850) 413-3089 from out of state.
The Insurance Consumer Advocate is appointed by Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and is committed to finding solutions to insurance issues facing Floridians, calling attention to questionable insurance practices, promoting a viable insurance market responsive to the needs of Florida’s diverse population and assuring that rates are fair and justified.
On Monday, Florida CFO Alex Sink announced action taken by the Duval County State Attorney’s Office in sentencing two insurance agents who were arrested last year for diverting over $50,000 to defraud insurance consumers.
Julie Hadley, once the vice president of People’s Choice Insurance, Inc. in Jacksonville, and Crystal Goodin, an employee, were sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by 10 years of felony probation plus restitution to their victims. Both of their licenses and the agency’s licenses were revoked last year.
The investigation began when Special Investigator Maggie Gattrell of the Division of Agent and Agency Services received information regarding fraudulent activities made by Hadley. Once criminal violations were suspected, Gattrell transferred the case to the department’s Division of Insurance Fraud. Investigators discovered that Hadley and Goodin habitually accepted policy-binder monies from victims of property and general liability insurance, then failed to bind the policies and kept the proceeds for themselves.
Florida currently has eight dedicated prosecutors located around the state assigned to insurance fraud cases. Last year, 532 cases resulted in convictions and over $34 million in court ordered restitutions.
Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink this week announced the sentencing of Roderick Walker, who pled guilty to two chargers of arson after he intentionally set fire to two churches in Palm Beach County last year. When the fires occurred in September 2009, SFM investigators arrived on the scene, and Detective Greg Gilkey noticed Walker nearby. Detective Gilkey interviewed Walker and was able to get him to confess using investigative interviewing techniques.
“The public does not always realize the impact arsons have on both people and businesses,” said Detective Gilkey. “Sometimes it takes years to get back to the place you were before the arson took place. Unfortunately, there are even times when rebuilding is not an option and a heavy burden and loss is placed on families and businesses.”
Walker was sentenced to 11 years in prison after he pled guilty to both arson charges.
The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is the law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local law enforcement and fire service agencies in the investigation of fires of a suspicious origin. Anyone with information about arson or any suspicious incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-NO-ARSON. Rewards are offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.
Florida CFO Alex Sink this week announced that two South Florida men have been arrested for operating a check cashing scheme for purposes of hiding payroll and avoiding workers compensation premiums. Yaser Yusef Musa and Richard Mojica Barsallo were arrested following an investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud and the Broward County Sheriffs Office Money Laundering Task Force. If convicted, the men face between 10 and 25 years behind bars.
From July through September last year, Musa knowingly failed to file proper documentation of transactions that occurred while he worked as a manager at Kwik Stop Top Market and Deli in Boca Raton to circumvent IRS reporting requirements. The scheme was discovered when a DIF detective went undercover and was directed by Barsallo to contact Musa. The detective was told that for a six percent “fee,” Musa would not report it to the IRS. The detective proceeded to cash three checks over $10,000 without providing proof of verification.
CFO Sink has proposed legislation that would create a major financial crimes bureau in the Division of Insurance Fraud. The legislation includes organizational changes to enhance the state’s ability to fight financial crimes like adding money laundering as a crime under the unit’s investigatory jurisdiction.
Last Wednesday in Fort Myers, 104 homeowners attended one of CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help events to receive tips on ways to handle their finances and to meet with their lender to create a workable solution to keep them in their homes.
Lenders included Wells Fargo, Chase Bank, Saxon Mortgage, and SunTrust. Consumer Credit Counseling, Empowerment Alliance of SW Florida and the Cape Coral Development Corp were community partners who participated in the workshop.
For more about Florida Housing Help, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/FloridaHousingHelp/.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010 Florida Housing Help War on Poverty, Inc. 5196-A Norwood Avenue Jacksonville, Florida 32208 Time: 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 Florida Housing Help - Free Legal Clinic War on Poverty-Florida, inside Gateway Mall, 5196-A Norwood Ave, Jacksonville, FL 32208 Time: 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010 Florida Housing Help War on Poverty, Inc. 5196-A Norwood Avenue Jacksonville, Florida 32208 Time: 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
For more workshops that include community partners and resources and offer great information for citizens, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/EventsbyCategory.asp.
This past week at CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors blitz week event in Palm Beach, a couple in attendance gave everyone a good reminder of how easily we can all be victims of financial and identity fraud.
The senior couple told a story of how they were approached by two people wearing official-looking apparel from one of the nation's leading banks. They were given applications to complete for a credit card.
The couple completed the application with personal financial information, but it was a bogus offer by predators who stole their personal identification. They are still disputing charges and fear the fraudulent activity has not yet stopped.
This is a good reminder to all that no matter how ‘official’ something may seem, we all must be extremely careful to whom we give personal and financial information.
Here are some tips to protect your identity:
For more information on how to protect yourself from identity theft, visit the Department’s web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
Are you out of control when it comes to your finances? Does thinking of money, budgets and debt make you feel like a financial failure? Getting control over personal financial matters doesn’t happen by itself.
Financial discipline is like any other part of your life that needs self-discipline, such as learning a sport.
Financial discipline may be scary at first, like hitting a golf ball, but it's really like any other kind of training, be it mental or physical. Start simple and work up to complete control of your golf swing and your finances. And like golf, learning the rules and regular practice will pay off.
No matter how much money you bring in, your financial success depends on the financial discipline of spending less than you make.
Create a budget and decide what part of your paycheck should go to savings, to pay bills and to spend for extras. If you are starting out this new plan with debt, then you need to figure paying off your debt into your budget.
Personal financial success requires planning, family discussion and regular maintenance, and that takes discipline.
To start and maintain your disciplined financial behavior, follow these rules:
The discipline of living within your means and regular savings will bring financial stability to your life. And for your golf game, practice your putting!