Volume 7 Number 35 August 27, 2010
This week I wrote Kenneth Feinberg, administrator for the new Gulf Coast Claims Facility, asking that in the interest of fairness, he reconsider his recently-established rules to benefit those who were harmed by this catastrophe, as opposed to those who caused it. I am extremely concerned that the claims facility is being too restrictive and does not do enough to account for the losses to all Floridians impacted by this disaster.
Like most Floridians, I am relieved that the spill has been capped and that we’ve been able to proceed with recovery. However, we cannot let our small businesses -- the backbone of our economy -- slip through the cracks, and I will continue to fight on their behalf until all rightful claims are honored.
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property netted over $1.1 million for the second consecutive year at the annual unclaimed property auction held Saturday, August 21 in Orlando. CFO Sink’s push, leading up to the auction, to drive Floridians to check for unclaimed property at www.FLTreasureHunt.org also helped Floridians to claim a staggering $28.3 million from over 35,000 accounts in just 13 days.
“Florida is second only to California in the amount of unclaimed property returned to its citizens and I commend my Bureau of Unclaimed Property for their dedication to reuniting Floridians with their cash or family valuables,” said CFO Sink. “This event is a win for everyone involved, with more than $1 million in proceeds from the auction benefitting Florida’s Public School Trust Fund, the awareness of the auction reuniting Floridians with thousands of accounts and auction participants leaving with incredible treasures.”
Saturday’s unclaimed property auction featured approximately 40,000 items, contents of unclaimed safe deposit boxes, with a reserve price of more than $600,000. After multiple attempts to find the owners of this property, the items were auctioned off, but the rightful owners are still able to claim the amount the item is sold for in cash. There is no statute of limitations, and citizens have the right to claim their property at any time and at no cost, by visiting the website at www.FLTreasureHunt.org.
In the past year alone, CFO Sink’s Florida Bureau of Unclaimed Property has reunited citizens with more than $188 million, the largest amount in state history. During Alex Sink’s tenure as CFO, the Bureau of Unclaimed Property has seen record returns, reuniting owners, heirs and businesses with more than one-third of all money returned since the beginning of the program, due largely to aggressive efforts to contact owners. Since the program’s inception 48 years ago, the Bureau of Unclaimed Property has successfully reunited owners or relatives of deceased owners with more than $1.6 billion in unclaimed property held in Florida.
The Bureau of Unclaimed Property is currently holding nine million accounts, mostly from dormant accounts in financial institutions, unclaimed utility deposits, insurance benefits, premium refunds, uncashed checks and trust accounts. It also holds watches, jewelry, coins, stamps and historical items from abandoned safe deposit boxes. Unclaimed property can be claimed for free at any time by the rightful owners or heirs by logging on to www.FLTreasureHunt.org or by calling the Bureau at 1-88-VALUABLE.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday sponsored a Cabinet resolution recognizing CEO Dominic Calabro for 30 years of service to the citizens of Florida with Florida TaxWatch. CFO Sink has worked closely with Florida TaxWatch and CEO Calabro for more than 20 years, both as a private sector business leader and now as a member of the Florida Cabinet. As a Florida business leader, Sink also served previously as a Tax Watch vice chair, working to reduce waste and increase accountability in state government.
“Dominic has been instrumental in helping change the way Florida government works for three decades by consistently identifying and presenting new ways that state government can improve productivity while increasing value to the citizens of Florida,” said CFO Alex Sink. “Under his leadership, TaxWatch has identified savings of $3.25 billion in productivity and efficiency improvements, and on behalf of Florida taxpayers, I thank him for his service and dedication.”
In 1980, Calabro joined the staff of the Citizens Council for Budget Research as a Senior Research Analyst and in 1982, was named Executive Director of what is now known as Florida TaxWatch. In 1986, Calabro was appointed as Chief Executive Officer, a position he still holds today. Florida TaxWatch recommendations have served as the impetus for important changes to Florida budgetary and taxation policies, including: the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights; the Government Performance Accountability Act; and phasing out the Intangibles Tax.
Calabro also serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Prudential Financial-Davis Productivity Awards Foundation, Inc., which recognizes and rewards outstanding government employees’ productivity and innovative cost savings. He was joined at the ceremony today by his wife, Debbie, and their four children. Read the Resolution.
Florida CFO Alex Sink this week sent a letter to Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the new Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), calling on him to rewrite the rules in favor of Florida’s small businesses who have been harmed by the oil spill, and also to do away with the requirement that Florida’s small business must re-file claims with the GCCF that have already been filed with BP.
“As you take over the claims process starting today, it appears that you have rejected my request in favor of an extremely restrictive view as to who is eligible for recovery,” CFO Sink wrote. “In my opinion, the GCCF rules must be rewritten in favor of those who were harmed by this catastrophe, as opposed to those who caused it.”
Florida CFO Alex Sink applauded Florida’s selection as one of the winners of the U.S. Department of Education's $4.35 billion in Race to the Top education grants. CFO Sink praised the efforts of all parties involved – including the Florida Department of Education, school superintendents and administrators, and teachers – for coming together to develop a winning proposal.
“Today’s announcement of these much needed education resources is welcome news, and shows what can be accomplished for Florida’s students when all the stakeholders work in a truly collaborative way. I have long said that without a stronger education system, Florida cannot build a more prosperous economy, and I am pleased that all parties involved were able to come together to win this funding,” said CFO Sink. “I am encouraged by this announcement, and I urge the federal government to make sure Florida receives its appropriate share of the grant funding. However, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done to be sure all of our children are getting the quality of education they deserve.”
Florida CFO Alex Sink offered the following statement after BP announced that it will provide Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) with $3 million for the agency and its community partners to provide mental health services and conduct outreach to individuals living and working in counties affected by the oil spill.
“Even though the oil leak has been capped, its widespread effects are not over, and they continue to take a significant toll on our coastal businesses, communities and their families,” said CFO Alex Sink. “I will continue to fight for fairness within the claims process, and hope these efforts by DCF provide immediate relief to Floridians who have been forced to cope with the environmental, financial and emotional consequences resulting from this oil spill.”
On July 30, DCF submitted a proposal to BP for $5.6 million to provide mental health services. BP is also making a $13 million contribution to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration for phone lines, outreach and other resources and Florida will benefit from that.
The Division of Consumer Services recently assisted a Palm Beach condominium association in saving $130,000 on its insurance premiums. After contacting Consumer Services and speaking with an insurance specialist, the association learned that they could reclassify their building from one unit to three separate units which resulted in a savings to their shareholders of more than $200,000 over a three-year period.
“This was an excellent illustration of the potential and influence your agency can and does have representing the interest of its citizens,” said a representative of the condo association.
After sharing this information with condo owners in the area, two other similarly constructed buildings are in the process of having their classifications changed to realize similar savings.
The Department of Financial Services assists many Florida condo associations and businesses with insurance and financial issues every year. If your business needs assistance with an insurance or financial matter please call our consumer helpline at (850) 413-3089 or 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236) or visit our web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
Florida State Fire Marshal and CFO Alex Sink reminds students, faculty members and parents across the State to practice fire safety and utilize prevention tips as the school year begins.
In 2003-2006, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 3,570 structure fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and barracks. These fires caused an annual average of seven civilian deaths, 54 civilian fire injuries, and $29.4 million in direct property damage. Dormitories include not only the school, college and university dormitories but also fraternity and sorority houses, monasteries, bunk houses, barracks and nurses’ quarters. Statistics show between 2003-2006, cooking equipment was involved in 75 percent of the reported dormitory fires including confined or contained fires. Structure fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and barracks are more common during the evening hours between 5-11 p.m., as well as on weekends. Only five percent of fires in these properties began in the bedroom, but these fires accounted for 62 percent of the civilian deaths and one-quarter (26 percent) of the civilian injuries.
As students head back to school, it is imperative that they keep in mind the simple yet very important fire safety and prevention tips. Some of the most common prevention tips include testing fire alarms to make sure they work, not overloading electrical outlets, cooking in appropriate designated areas and not leaving candles unattended. A list of fire safety tips can be found on the U.S. Fire Administration website at http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/citizens/focus/sprinklers.shtm.
One responsibility of the Department’s Bureau of Fire Prevention’s Inspection Section is enforcing the state’s fire codes, which include over 200 fire safety standards. Inspections are conducted annually on more than 14,000 state owned buildings and facilities, including state schools and universities. During the fiscal year the Section also conducts construction inspections for new state-owned or state-leased properties and provides assistance to local fire departments and governments. These inspections include a diverse collection of occupancy classes such as state correctional institutions, all state universities, some medical facilities, industrial facilities, and the Capitol Building itself. The complexity of these structures requires expertise in construction techniques, fire alarms, smoke evacuation systems, and water-based fire protection systems. This Section also provides on-site educational support to allied enforcement agencies and assists in the delivery of educational programs to Florida’s citizens.
Visit the Bureau of Fire Prevention at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/sfm/bfpr/bfpr_index.htm.
Have a fun, yet safe school year!
During these tough economic times, many adults have decided to return to school and further their education. As mentioned in the previous installment of this series, beginning September 23, 2010, young adults under the age of 26 can remain on their parent’s health insurance plan. This applies as long as a job-based health insurance plan isn’t available to the young adult.
Unfortunately, not all graduate students are under the age of 26. Therefore, many graduate students have different health insurance concerns than undergraduate students. Thus, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate would like to share the options available to graduate students.
Graduate students that have families and find themselves in need of health insurance should consider the following:
Single graduate students over the age of 26, should consider the following when obtaining health insurance coverage:
Consumers that have any additional questions regarding health insurance coverage for graduate students 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.
The Florida Housing Help website can help connect struggling Floridians who may be at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure or may be facing mortgage fraud issues with assistance. For a schedule of workshops that include community partners and resources and offer great information for citizens, read the Florida Housing Help Calendar.
When preparing for a disaster, most people think of emergency kits for their homes, but it is also important to stock your car with necessary items to help you cope in the aftermath of a disaster. Here is a list of items needed for your emergency car survival kit:
When packing the kit for your car, be sure to include enough supplies for the entire family. It is also important to remember sizes and efficient ways of packing the items. You want to be sure there is enough space for your kit and everything else your family needs in case of an emergency.
Find out when a Hurricane Preparedness event will be in your area on our Calendar of Events. Check back with us next week for more ideas.
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.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that most Americans are confused about the new health care law, also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Sadly, unscrupulous individuals are taking advantage of this confusion to make a quick, dishonest buck, going door-to-door selling phony insurance policies.
Medicare fraud can also take the form of sophisticated schemes. In the largest Medicare fraud bust in history, 94 people were charged earlier this year for scams totaling $251 million. Federal authorities estimate that Medicare fraud costs U.S. taxpayers $60 billion to $90 billion each year.
"Fraud contributes to increased health-care costs for all Americans and undermines vital programs like Medicare," said Jenny O'Brien, Medicare compliance officer for United Healthcare Medicare Solutions, which serves nearly nine million-or one in five-Medicare beneficiaries nationwide. "Seniors and other beneficiaries should be vigilant and rely only on their trusted sources of information about their Medicare benefits."
O'Brien said her company is urging consumers-especially older Americans and Medicare beneficiaries-to protect themselves from potential scams by remembering the following tips:
For more information on how to report suspected fraud, call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or visit www.Medicare.gov or www.StopMedicareFraud.gov. To help understand the full scope of changes to Medicare that will be implemented in the coming years, Medicare beneficiaries can access resources at www.MedicareMadeClear.com, where they can download an easy-to-use reference guide for understanding Medicare. http://www.napsnet.com/articles/64579.html
Over the last two years, CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has held more than 400 Safeguard Our Seniors events throughout the state to teach how to guard against fraud and scams targeting seniors. Calendar of Events
It is okay to carry some debt. But smart financial management prefers good debt to bad debt -good being loans for potentially appreciating assets, such as a home or college education; bad being the use of credit for something that loses value or disappears quickly, such as dinner out or a new TV.
Minimizing bad debt is a good financial plan – use credit only when you can pay it off in that month. You don’t want to be paying for things long after they are gone or the value has diminished.
As far as your debt load - don't overextend. As a rule of thumb, lenders think a mortgage should represent 28 percent of a couple's gross income or less. Overall debt, including car loans, student debt and credit cards, shouldn't exceed 40 percent of gross income.
Your credit score, used to determine credit worthiness, is based on payment history, outstanding debts, credit history, new credit, and credit in use. Extra room on your credit card is essential as it is the debt carried to credit available ratio that is important for a better credit score.
You have three scores, one for each of the three credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, each score based on information the credit bureau keeps on file about you. As this information changes, your credit scores tend to change as well. Your three scores affect both how much and what loan terms (interest rate, etc.) lenders will offer you at any given time. Taking steps to improve your credit scores can help you qualify for better rates from lenders.