Volume 7 Number 22 May 28, 2010
During this Memorial Day weekend, we will honor our veterans who died in service protecting our country. I am proud to be able to join Florida veterans, family and friends at the annual Florida Memorial Day ceremony sponsored by the Joint Veterans Committee at the Florida National Cemetery. I encourage all Floridians to take time to remember the great service of our nation’s brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defending our freedom.
Also, Memorial Day marks the start of the most important tourist season in the Florida Panhandle, and this week, I urged BP and Florida officials to effectively get out the message that our beaches are pristine and open for business. I will continue to work with state and federal officials to ensure that we are doing everything we can to support our small businesses and coastal communities who have been economically impacted by this spill.
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Friday held a roundtable with Key West business owners and took a boat tour of the Southern Keys focused on the potential economic and environmental impact of the BP oil spill throughout Florida. Local area leaders and business owners shared their stories about the economic impact they are already experiencing because of the oil spill and heard from CFO Sink about the steps she has taken to help Florida’s coastal businesses.
CFO Sink also took a boat tour with a Fish and Wildlife Commission research manager and other marine experts, viewing the currently pristine waters around the Southern Keys and discussing the potential environmental impact, especially on the marine life, should the oil that is now approximately 400 miles away reach South Florida.
CFO Sink said what she learned from the tour only strengthened her resolve that the federal government must be in full control over the oil spill containment effort and focused on how to mitigate the damage that is happening to beaches and ecosystems in other states. On the boat tour with CFO Sink were: John Hunt, manager of the FWC Research Laboratory, Billy Causey, southeast regional superintendent for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Gary Appelson, policy coordinator for the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, Millard (Mill) McCleary, program director for Reef Relief, and Jim Fourqurean, a Florida International University ecologist who specializes in marine environments.
The roundtable included local business owners, tourism industry representatives and elected officials. Business owners told CFO Sink that reports about the oil spill’s potential impact in Florida have prompted numerous cancellations just as the peak of the tourist season is beginning this Memorial Day Weekend. Sink reconfirmed her commitment that the federal government, and not BP, must be in charge of the claims process for lost business income due to the oil spill. .
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Thursday sent a letter to Secretary Michael Sole of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) asking that the agency deploy a team of scientists and experts to study the 100 miles of shoreline in Louisiana that have been damaged by the Deepwater Horizon oil slick. Sink first asked Secretary Sole to create such a team at this week’s Cabinet meeting and suggested that the team could report back to the Cabinet and offer information about methods and ideas that are working to help clean up the damage.
“We must do everything possible to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best, and there is no better way to learn than from those who have had recent experiences,” said CFO Sink. “Florida is sure to benefit from the lessons learned and ideas that have or have not been successful in keeping the oil slick and byproducts from chemical dispersants from damaging our coastlines.”
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday called for an immediate infusion of Northwest Florida-specific tourism ads, now that a $25 million tourism grant has been received from BP in response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill causing considerable visitor cancellations and hurting the Northwest Florida economy. She also expressed frustration at this week's Florida Cabinet meeting with how long it took to get the funds, since she first called for a global media campaign funded by BP on May 8.
"I met with a BP executive nearly three weeks ago and said that they needed to fund a global media campaign to counter the negative effects this spill is having on our coastal communities and small businesses – especially our Northwest Florida region, which counts on the summer months for their prime tourism season," said CFO Sink. "We should have had this money – and an effective ad campaign – weeks ago. Many Northwest Florida businesses rely on the 90 days from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day to make their whole year."
CFO Sink also called for specific ads that target the Panhandle’s diverse regions, as opposed to VISIT Florida’s broad “VISIT Florida Live” campaign which was featured at this week’s Cabinet meeting.
“These ads were generic and did not do enough to address potential visitors’ specific concerns, and I will be working with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and other tourism industry experts to ensure that any subsequent marketing presents an effective and convincing message,” added CFO Sink.
On Monday, CFO Sink wrote a letter to President Obama asking for a more coordinated Federal effort to oversee the Deepwater Horizon oil leak response, including the handling of the claims process.
For more information on CFO Sink’s actions regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, visit: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/OilSpill/default.htm.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Thursday called on U.S. Small Business Administration Secretary Karen Mills for a review of the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) application process to look for ways to speed up the turnaround time so Florida’s small businesses can access the cash they need to keep their businesses going during the economic fallout from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Thursday sent a letter to Governor Crist urging him to activate the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program and expand the scope of the loans to provide immediate assistance to small businesses suffering economic damages as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“Florida is facing what could be the worst environmental disaster our state has ever dealt with, and it is our responsibility to use every resource at our disposal to help those whose livelihoods are being threatened,” said CFO Sink.
CFO Sink noted that current disaster relief loans that have been set up can take up to eight weeks for approval, and BP’s claims center has not been providing enough to cover the expenses of many small businesses.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday sent a letter to President Obama urging that he put his administration in full command of stopping the Deepwater Horizon oil leak and processing the claims for affected residents and businesses. CFO Sink also said she would also ask Governor Crist to schedule an emergency meeting of the Florida Cabinet to allow a forum for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to provide Florida’s executive branch with a full briefing on the federal government’s plans to end this crisis.
“For too long we have relied on BP and its contractors to staunch the flow of oil, and they have failed us at every turn,” said CFO Sink. “We are now more than a month out from this disaster, and Floridians want to know: Where is the federal government’s leadership? By whatever standard one views this situation – environmental or economic – what’s clear is that we are all suffering due to the lack of a workable plan to stop the leak and take care of the residents and businesses that have been affected.”
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Friday commended Governor Crist for signing into law the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which gives local governments the option of providing loans for property owners to make energy-efficiency enhancements to their homes and engage in renewable energy projects.
“The PACE program is an innovative way for Florida’s property owners and governments to work together to increase Florida’s energy efficiency and promote energy conservation, energy security, and the reduction of greenhouse gases,” said CFO Sink. “Especially as we continue to confront the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it is timely for Florida to implement programs like PACE and explore alternative options to secure our energy future.”
Funding for Florida’s proposed PACE program comes from proceeds of a revenue bond issuance; property owners then repay the loan through an assessment on their individual property tax bills. For more information on the legislation, click here.
The President designated May 23-29, 2010, as National Hurricane Preparedness Week. NOAA and FEMA encourage those living in hurricane-prone states to use this time to review their overall preparedness. More information on individual and family preparedness can be found at www.MyFloridaCFO.com, www.Ready.gov and www.hurricanes.gov/prepare.
An “active to extremely active” hurricane season is expected for the Atlantic Basin this year according to the seasonal outlook issued today by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center – a division of the National Weather Service. As with every hurricane season, this outlook underscores the importance of having a hurricane preparedness plan in place.
Across the entire Atlantic Basin for the six-month season, which begins June 1, NOAA is projecting a 70 percent probability of the following ranges:
The outlook ranges exceed the seasonal average of 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. Expected factors supporting this outlook are:
"FEMA is working across the administration and with our state and local partners to ensure we're prepared for hurricane season," said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. "But we can only be as prepared as the public, so it's important that families and businesses in coastal communities take steps now to be ready. These include developing a communications plan, putting together a kit, and staying informed of the latest forecasts and local emergency plans. You can't control when a hurricane or other emergency may happen, but you can make sure you're ready."
NOAA scientists will continue to monitor evolving conditions in the tropics and will issue an updated hurricane outlook in early August, just prior to what is historically the peak period for hurricane activity. NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine resources.
In a continuing effort to make sure consumers are prepared for this hurricane season, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate believes it is necessary for consumers to understand what public adjusters do and what services they provide.
Immediately after experiencing a loss, there are certain steps all consumers should take whether they hire a public adjuster or not. Most claims are resolved quickly and repairs can be done expeditiously, but the claims process can be stressful, especially for homeowners or business owners dealing with the emotional experience of a major loss.
When there is a dispute between the policyholder and the insurance company, there are options available to resolve those differences. Consumers should obtain a copy of the insurance company’s estimate and the contractor’s estimate and may attempt to discuss the differences with their insurance company. If the consumer is still not satisfied with the settlement offered by their insurance company and have disputed a claim amount in excess of $500.00, they have the statutory right to request mediation. The mediation process is an informal and non-binding way to resolve claims through a neutral third party. The mediation program is administrated by the Department of Financial Services, Division of Consumer Services and the insurance company pays the entire cost.
For consumers who want assistance with navigating the claims process or with disputes over settlement offers, they may wish to hire a public adjuster. Among other things, public adjusters can help to manage the mediation process, analyze coverage from the policyholder’s perspective, identify, record and quantify all damages associated with a claim’s event, help the policyholder to understand the quality of all settlement offers advanced by the insurance carrier and assist the policyholder in preparation, presentation and the adjustment of the claim.
Public adjusters are licensed by the State of Florida specifically to represent insured policyholders. They do not work for insurance companies or independent adjusting firms. They are different from company adjusters who are employed by the consumer’s insurance company. Public adjusters contract directly with a policyholder to provide adjusting services and negotiate a claim settlement on the policyholder’s behalf with the insurance company.
Consumers need to be aware that a public adjuster is usually entitled under their contract to a percentage of the total claim settlement. A consumer should review a contract with a public adjuster carefully to be sure they understand the terms and conditions of the contract.
Consumers who retain the services of a public adjuster should also be aware of standards Florida law provides when dealing with a public adjuster:
Consumers who have further questions regarding public adjusters 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 CFO 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 the Florida Financial Literacy Council (FFLC) selects an individual or organization that possesses a strong commitment to financial literacy education in Florida to receive the Champion of Financial Literacy Award. The FFLC will begin accepting nominations for the 2011 Champion of Financial Literacy Award on June 1, 2010. To learn more about the Champion of Financial Literacy Award criteria and application process, visit http://www.myfloridamoney.com/FFLC_COFLAward.htm.
CFO Sink is a strong proponent of financial literacy. Through outreach coordinators, the Department of Financial Services reaches out to local communities to educate consumers on topics such as the wise use of credit cards for teens, credit card identity theft, hurricane preparedness, small business security, life insurance and first-time homebuyer workshops.
For a calendar of events click here. If you would like to request an event for your organization or group, please visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877- 693-5236).
I recently represented Florida Eye Health at a health fair for the Department of Financial Services' Safeguard Our Seniors outreach event in Fort Myers. Terry Cerullo, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Department of Financial Services, was representing the Department.
Terry explained that he was conducting Unclaimed Property searches for consumers and asked me to give him my full name to enter into his computer to see if the state was holding any funds that belonged to me. I told him I knew where every penny of my money was – GONE. Terry assured me that I might be surprised.
He entered my name and much to my amazement, there it was with an old address from 15 years ago. The state was holding a refund due to me from a homeowners insurance policy!
After following all of the instructions, I received a check for just over $200. And I thought I knew where every penny I had was stashed! Since then, I have been entering the name of everyone I know and have found small funds for a couple of co-workers, one of our doctors, as well as a very small insurance payment check due to our company. It is certainly worth your time to type in your name at www.fltreasurehunt.org. You may be surprised, too.
Sandy Kiss, Outreach Coordinator at Florida Eye Health in Fort Myers.
CFO Alex Sink’s Department of Financial Services held a Florida Housing Help workshop in Tallahassee on Tuesday in partnership with the City of Tallahassee and Consumer Credit Counseling Services. Nearly 100 homeowners attended to speak to lenders and HUD certified counselors. One homeowner said the event was very helpful and that they hoped the Department would hold another event soon.
Homeowners had the opportunity to meet with lenders to begin the refinancing or loan modification process to keep their families in their homes.
Also included in the event was an educational workshop that included special speakers covering topics such as Foreclosure: Knowing Your Legal Rights, Surviving Job Loss, How Do I Save My Home? and How Can Your Insurance Policy Save You Money?
Thursday, June 3, 2010 Our Lady of Lebanon - 2055 Coral Way, Miami FL
Saturday, June 19, 2010 Englewood Neighborhood Center, 6123 La Costa Drive, Orlando, FL 32807 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Saturday, June 19, 2010 Glasser Schoenbaum Center, 1750 17th Street Building J, Sarasota FL 34234 - 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 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.
Calling and asking is a good way to get something fixed or changed on your credit card account or any consumer account. The results will depend on the attitude of the company at the moment and the mood of the customer service rep you get on the phone.
If you have a late fee, ask to have that removed. Often the company will take it off if lateness is not a recurring pattern and the payment was made close to the due date. One recommendation on this front - arrange to have your payment deducted automatically from your bank account so late fees will not be an issue.
Call to ask for a reduction in your interest rate. Since it is possible to move your balance to another card, competition is a factor and the credit card companies are usually willing to work with you on this.
A consumer group researched how easy it would be to get a lower credit card interest rate and 57 percent of those who simply telephoned their credit card company and asked for a lower interest rate got one instantly.
When you call and ask for a lower interest rate, your reasoning should be that you deserve it because you're an excellent customer or you are getting better offers from other credit cards.
Every day, hundreds of Floridians fall victim to financial fraud. Many of these victims are trusting seniors who were misled into making risky or inappropriate financial investments including annuities and reverse mortgages by unscrupulous agents and scam artists. In response, CFO Sink created the Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force to develop solutions to better protect Florida seniors from falling victim to financial fraud.
The Department of Financial Services offers these Safeguard Our Seniors events so that you can learn how to guard against fraud and scams targeting seniors.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010 Forrest Hills Presbyterian Church, 709 W. Linebaugh, Tampa Florida, 6:00 p.m.
Friday, June 11, 2010 Englewood Elks Lodge # 2378, 401 N. Indiana Ave. Englewood 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Friday, July 23, 2010 Suncoast Hospice, 5771 Roosevelt Boulevard, Clearwater Florida 33760, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.