Volume 7 Number 9 February 26, 2010
This week, I was honored to meet and talk with some of our heroes from two South Florida search and rescue task forces who helped rescue 18 people from the rubble of the terrible earthquake in Haiti. I was proud to sponsor a Cabinet resolution recognizing their efforts.
Also this week, I announced ongoing work that my department has done to save Florida taxpayers nearly $1 million through proactive steps to reduce our costs for office space.
State of Florida
The Florida Cabinet on Wednesday recognized the Miami Dade Fire Rescue Florida Task Force 1 and the South Florida Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 2, two of six urban search and rescue teams from the United States which operated in Haiti looking for survivors trapped in collapsed buildings. The resolution was sponsored by Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink.
“Floridians and people from all over the world are forever grateful for the bravery and professionalism our task forces displayed in Haiti,” said CFO Sink. “Their heroic acts serve to remind us all of the character of dedication of our emergency response personnel.”
Florida’s two task forces are credited with rescuing 18 people, including five children, and an American citizen from Florida. Each team is a part of the National Urban Search & Rescue Response System, responding to domestic emergencies such as the Oklahoma City bombing, the World Trade Center and Hurricane Katrina. The teams comprised participating agencies across South Florida and are sponsored by the City of Miami Fire Rescue. Both teams are mobilized and deployed with highly trained search and rescue personnel, search canines, and specialized tools and equipment.
Prior to the Florida Cabinet meeting, CFO Sink hosted members of the task force with a reception. Among those participating in today’s recognition:
Representing Miami Dade Fire Rescue Florida Task Force 1
Representing the South Florida Urban Search and Rescue Florida Task Force 2
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Thursday announced projected taxpayer savings of nearly $1 million from re-negotiation of current and future lease contracts by her Department of Financial Services, and from moving state employees from privately leased space to state-owned facilities. CFO Sink’s Division of Administration began looking at these options in February 2008, and has since identified these significant savings for Florida taxpayers.
“I am always looking for ways that we can do more with less, especially when taxpayers are footing the bill,” said CFO Sink. “This is a common-sense, businesslike best practice that makes government more efficient and effective.”
Examples include re-negotiating a lease for office space in Tallahassee, which will result in savings of approximately $450,000 over the term of the lease. Also, DFS employees leasing space in Daytona Beach from a private landlord moved to a state building, reducing square footage by 4,034 square feet, and saving nearly $200,000 over a two-year period.
CFO Sink also commended Senator J.D. Alexander for recently asking all state agencies to meet with tenant brokers to develop similar cost-saving strategies.
“If we’re able to save this much in my department, just imagine how much we could save if all state agencies did the same thing,” said CFO Sink. “I look forward to sharing our best practices with other agency heads as they implement this great cost cutting initiative.”
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 two call centers, renegotiating existing contracts, and streamlining management, which is estimated to save nearly $10 million in the next 12-18 months.
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 is encouraging Floridians to learn more about the importance of saving and preparing financially for the future during Florida Saves Week. CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services participated in many events during the past week. CFO Sink, Governor Charlie Crist and other members of the Florida Cabinet signed a proclamation designating Florida Saves Week.
“As our state continues to face tough economic times, it is more important that ever for Floridians to learn smart money management and take control of their families’ finances,” said CFO Sink. “Florida Saves Week should serve as a reminder to all Floridians about the need for a long-term plan to ensure a stronger and more secure financial future.”
Studies show that most Americans do not have adequate savings for emergencies let alone retirement, and that 72 percent of Americans would find it difficult to meet current expenses if their paycheck were delayed a week.
Florida Saves Week events have been hosted by CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services, the University of Florida Extension Service, local Saves campaigns, and the Financial Literacy Council, which CFO Sink oversees. Topics included the use of credit cards, identity theft, hurricane preparedness, small business security, life insurance, financial fraud, and first-time homebuyer workshops. A schedule of events occurring through Florida is available at: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/EventsbyCategory.asp.
The Florida Department of Financial Services on Monday issued a consumer warning for Floridians receiving solicitations from unauthorized insurance companies using the names American Trade Association, Real Benefits Association or Smart Data Solutions. Selling unauthorized insurance is a felony.
No entity is currently licensed to transact insurance business in Florida under these names. Consumers who bought health insurance policies from these entities, or another entity they cannot confirm is licensed to transact insurance in Florida, are urged to call the CFO’s Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236) or log on to Consumer Help Online at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
DFS issued an Immediate Final Order in 2007 against entities suspected to be affiliated with these same entities -- New Jersey-based National Trade Business Alliance of America (NTBAA), National Alliance Association (NAA) and several affiliates, ordering the entities to stop the unauthorized sale of health insurance in Florida.
Licensed insurers have met Florida’s stringent statutory financial requirements for licensure, and policyholders are protected by the Florida Life and Health Guaranty Association Act should a licensed insurer become insolvent. Unauthorized insurance does not offer these protections. Unauthorized insurance, particularly unauthorized health insurance, can lead to significant unpaid claims and out-of-pocket costs for victims. Agents or individuals who sell unauthorized insurance not only could lose their license but also could be required to pay all unpaid claims and could face felony charges.
Consumers who believe they have bought coverage from an unlicensed insurance operation should take the following steps:
In addition, consumers should:
To verify licensure of an insurance company or agent, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call the CFO’s Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).
In 2008, Florida became aware of a serious issue that continues to affect many homeowners today - Chinese Drywall. To date, the Consumer Products Safety Commission has received 1,615 complaints about Chinese Drywall, and Florida represents over half of all such complaints filed in the United States. Unfortunately, even though our state was the hardest hit with this issue, state leaders have been slow to respond to this problem wreaking havoc on Florida homeowners.
Currently, the federal government is conducting interagency tests to determine if the presence of Chinese Drywall is causing the many health issues that consumers have reported, as well as the extensive deterioration of personal property located in these homes. The federal government has also conducted trade missions to China in an effort to persuade the Chinese to help finance solutions to the current problem.
However, while all of these plans are in motion, many Floridians have been forced from their homes because of Chinese Drywall. These citizens cannot afford to repair their homes without financial assistance either from their insurance company or the federal government. Consumers also face the prospect of losing their property insurance coverage due to the presence of Chinese Drywall.
Our state legislature seems content to wait for a federal solution to the ever-growing Chinese Drywall problem. Unfortunately, for those consumers affected by Chinese Drywall, a federal solution could possibly take years to reach, and the administration of this solution even longer. Read more.
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.
Each year, children set more than 100,000 fires, according to the United States Fire Administration. And children make up nearly a quarter of all fire-related deaths. About 40 percent of fires that kill children under the age of five are set by children playing with fire. Because of these unfortunate facts, it is imperative that people are allowed the opportunity to receive proper education that can literally save lives.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office, Bureau of Fire & Prevention, along with the Clearwater Fire & Rescue are co-sponsoring a Play Safe! Be Safe! Workshop, focusing on fire safety issues for children ages 3 to 5. The participants in the workshop will receive a multi-media classroom fire safety education kit. The three-hour training will be held at the Clearwater Fire Training Facility in Clearwater at no cost to the attendees.
The training was created for trainers, teachers, and other direct-care providers who are affiliated with children in the 3- to 5-year age range. Topics to be covered include discussing the frequency of children’s fire-play and fire-setting; helping preschool children understand fire; teaching preschool children fire safety and prevention skills; and involving the whole family in fire safety.
With the Florida economy in recovery, Floridians are trying to find ways to save money. Household water usage is often an overlooked expense that when conserved, can put money back in consumers pockets and help the environment, too.
Lowering water usage isn’t limited to shortening showers and doing less laundry. Consumers should know that household water usage also includes doing the dishes by hand, using the dishwasher, watering the lawn, filling the pool, flushing the toilet, and a multitude of other common household practices.
Here are some things that consumers should keep in mind regarding water usage:
Shorter showers save water. The average individual that takes one shower per day for 10 minutes uses 40 gallons of water per day. Cutting back on shower and bath time can be a tremendous help to limiting water consumption.
Make the change to low-flow. Installing a low-flow shower head and low-flow toilets can help consumers limit their water consumption without having to change pre-existing habits. In addition, water saving and Energy Star appliances, especially washing machines and dishwashers, can assist in lowering water consumption and energy use. A front-loading washing machine, for example, uses 40-60% less water than top-loading machines.
Don’t wash your car yourself. While most consumers believe that they are saving money by not going to the car wash, the EPA estimates that washing a car at home can use up to 500 gallons of water. On the other hand, a car wash typically uses about 32 gallons of water per vehicle.
Websites allow consumers to calculate their water usage. The Southwest Florida Water Management District has a water usage calculator available on their website at: http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/conservation/thepowerof10/. Give it a try,
To honor and recognize the crucial partnership that sworn law enforcement has with members of the community, representatives of Florida CFO Alex Sink’s consumer services and law enforcement divisions this month attended the Justice Coalition’s 8th Annual “Together We Can” breakfast in Jacksonville.
The Justice Coalition is a non-profit agency working to assist families and victims of violent crimes. At the breakfast, Captain Phil Roman of the Division of State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, Captain Brian McCoy of the Division of Insurance Fraud, along with outreach coordinator Tiffany Reeves heard from local officials and families affected by violent crime.
CFO Sink’s 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-NO-ARSON. Rewards are offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Left to right, Captain Roman and Captain McCoy.
The Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) investigates various forms of insurance fraud, including health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance. Depending on the estimated loss amount, DIF will pay up to $25,000 for information directly leading to an arrest and conviction. Anyone with information about suspected insurance fraud is asked to call CFO Sink’s Fraud Fighters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445 or visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud.
The Division of Consumer Services conducts hundreds of consumer outreach programs and handles more than 250,000 consumer calls annually.
Florida Housing Help, a community outreach program, is designed to educate and assist families facing foreclosure. The workshop will include opportunities to meet with mortgage lenders and HUD-certified counselors.
For more about Florida Housing Help, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/FloridaHousingHelp/.
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 15, 2010 Florida Housing Help Workshop The University Area Community Development Center, 14013 North 22nd Street, Tampa, Florida 33613 Time: 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, March 18, 2010 Florida Housing Help - Joseph P. D'Alessandro Office Complex, 2295 Victoria Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33901 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.
Many of the consumer protections in the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 took effect this week, and as a result credit card companies must now provide cardholders greater advance notice of changes in credit terms and fees as well as late charges and interest payments.
The new law also limits how credit card companies can increase interest rates. Credit card companies will have to give cardholders "a reasonable amount of time" to make payments on monthly bills. That means payments will be due at least 21 days after they are mailed or delivered.
A good place to find more information on the new law is the MSN Money Web site at http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Banking/CreditCardSmarts/What-the-new-credit-card-law-means-for-you.aspx.
The look of your credit card statement will also be changing. For more details on what to expect, visit http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Banking/YourCreditRating/coming-soon-clearer-credit-card-bills.aspx.
For tips on insurance and financial matters, visit CFO Sink’s Florida Department of Financial Services Web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
Select direct deposit when you e-file and receive your refund in as few as 10 days.
More than two out of three Americans filed electronically last tax season and the number grows every year. You should opt for e-file whether you use software or a tax preparer at http://www.irs.gov/efile/.
Explore which Free File service -- offered exclusively at IRS.gov/freefile — fits your situation: easy-to-use, step-by-step tax preparation software or fillable forms. All taxpayers can use this service.
Best of all, either Free File option allows you to e-file for free! When you e-file through Free File, your information is safe and secure. You’ll get an electronic receipt saying your return has been received by the IRS. You can even print a paper copy of your federal tax return for your records. Free File is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Click on Where's My Refund? to check on the status of your refund. You can generally get information about your refund 72 hours after IRS acknowledges receipt of your e-filed return, or three to four weeks after mailing a paper return.
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