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My Florida C F O
Weekly eNewsletter from Florida's Chief Financial Officer

Dear Fellow Floridian:

Today marks the final day of the 2013 Legislative Session. As the Florida Legislature prepares for sine die, I commend this legislative body for a successful session. As the economy begins to improve, they stayed focused on creating an environment that fosters economic prosperity for Floridians.

It is clear that Florida’s elected leaders are committed to creating a climate for economic success and reducing financial burdens.

I am eager to implement reforms passed this session that will increase government transparency and accountability, protect Florida’s consumers, and get government off the backs of hardworking Floridians.

It has been a successful 60 days for our state’s Legislature and our fellow Floridians!

Jeff Atwater
Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

Legislation Signed to Automate Unclaimed Property Claims

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Thursday joined Governor  Scott, Senator Flores (R-Miami) and Representative Mayfield (R-Vero Beach) at a bill signing ceremony for SB 464, which allows the CFO’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property to create a fully automated claims process.CFO Atwater at the Unclaimed Property bill signing

With the signing of this bill, the Bureau of Unclaimed Property will be developing an automated system for claims less than $1,000. The new automated process will verify a claimant’s identity and quickly return unclaimed funds. This new automated process will eliminate the need to manually process approximately 27 percent of all claims, allowing unclaimed funds to be returned faster with no additional resources.

“With more than $1 billion of unclaimed property waiting to be claimed, this bill will allow us to work more efficiently to get more of these dollars back into the pockets of their rightful owners,” CFO Atwater said. “I would like to thank Governor Scott and the Legislature for supporting the Unclaimed Property program and helping in our efforts to return more unclaimed property than ever before.”

Governor Scott said, “This bill cuts through paperwork and enhances services for Florida families, so they can quickly access their property. This is yet another example of how our effort to cut costs and add value for Florida taxpayers is working.”

Unclaimed Property

“The overwhelming support we received for this piece of legislation is a testament to the good work being done at the CFO’s office to return unclaimed property to Floridians,” Sen. Flores said. “Using new technology and moving to an electronic claims process will help the Bureau of Unclaimed Property process claims faster and more efficiently— reuniting even more Floridians with their unclaimed property.”

“These are financially challenging times for many Floridians and an automated claims process will make it easier for CFO Atwater to return unclaimed funds to their rightful owners,” Rep. Mayfield said. “I was proud to sponsor this bill and encourage all Floridians to check the CFO’s website to see if you have unclaimed property waiting to be returned to you.”

The majority of property is from dormant accounts in financial institutions, insurance and utility companies, securities, and trust holdings. In addition to money and securities, unclaimed property includes tangible property such as watches, jewelry, coins, currency, stamps, historical items and other miscellaneous articles from abandoned safe deposit boxes.

Unclaimed money is deposited into the state school fund, where it is used for public education. There is, however, no statute of limitations, and citizens have the right to claim their property, or the proceeds derived from their abandoned property, any time at no cost.. To search for or claim unclaimed property, visit www.FLTreasureHunt.org, or call 1-88-VALUABLE or 850-413-5555.

During CFO Atwater’s tenure, the Bureau of Unclaimed Property has seen record returns, reuniting owners, heirs and businesses with more than $486 million, due largely to persistent efforts to contact owners.

Misused Funds Returned to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Wednesday announced the return of $310,000 to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) for false claims made against APD by the Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens, Inc., d/b/a the Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Center (HARC). The agreement with HARC, in settlement of the civil case only, is based upon allocations of $254,758 to APD for civil damages and $55,242 to the Department of Financial Services (DFS) for investigative expenses. However, CFO Atwater is giving his agency’s funds to APD to be used to benefit the Floridians whom APD serves.Office of Fiscal Integrity

CFO Atwater, through the DFS Office of Fiscal Integrity, received a request for assistance from the APD in early 2011 regarding HARC. As a result, DFS conducted an investigation into HARC regarding the management, administration and billing practices for the HomeLink Program from 2008 through 2011. The HomeLink Program was designed to provide physically and/or developmentally disabled adults with the opportunity for job training and wages by employing them to provide senior citizens at risk of nursing home placement with housecleaning, yard work, companion and other services that would enable the senior citizens to remain in their homes.

The investigation revealed that HARC significantly overbilled for services, billed for customers who were deceased at the time the services were allegedly provided, and billed for salaried HARC employees who clearly did not qualify to be paid under the HomeLink Program.

“This is an unconscionable example of the misuse of taxpayer dollars that were intended to benefit the most vulnerable citizens of Hillsborough County,” CFO Atwater said. “It is a travesty that HARC, an organization trusted in the community to care for those with developmental disabilities, abused that trust and put vulnerable citizens at risk of having to be uprooted from their homes, friends and caregivers.”

As the false claims and fraud occurring at HARC were uncovered, it became clear that HARC’s financial situation was rapidly deteriorating. Due to HARC’s insolvency, APD began arranging alternative housing for the residents of HARC’s facilities when a transfer of those facilities to another APD provider was organized so that the residents would not be negatively affected by relocation.

“My commitment is to the safety and wellbeing of the clients we serve,” Barbara Palmer, Director of APD, said. “I am very happy that the clients of HARC are being served by a new provider, in their same homes with no interruption of service. I want to thank CFO Atwater for his hard work in this case and for the return of this money to APD.”

CFO Atwater’s Office of Fiscal Integrity is responsible for statewide investigations of allegations of fraud, waste and abuse involving State of Florida property and money. To report fraud, waste or abuse of state resources, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com or contact the Office of Fiscal Integrity at 850-413-5514.

Operation S.A.F.E. Initiative Is Launched

In honor of Older Americans Month in May, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is launching Operation S.A.F.E., a new initiative to “Stop Adult Financial Exploitation” and turn the tables on fraud artists who target Florida’s seniors. CFO Atwater is seeking to combat statistics which estimate that at least one in five seniors Operation S.A.F.E.has been a victim of financial fraud.

Initial workshops will be held this month in Cape Coral, Venice, Delray Beach, Clearwater, the Villages and Miami, with other locations to be scheduled throughout the year.

“Our seniors contribute greatly to Florida’s economy and as a result many have built a nest egg that makes them targets for fraud,” CFO Atwater said. “It is my mission to ensure that they can better enjoy their retirement knowing they are armed with information to safeguard their finances.”

The workshops, titled Be Scam Smart, are part of CFO Atwater’s On Guard for Seniors initiative that he launched last year to educate seniors on specific financial products such as annuities, identity theft, reverse mortgages and long-term care insurance. Operation S.A.F.E. will focus on frauds and scams, such as fake lotteries and repair scams, and how these scams work on the psyche to convince seniors to take a chance on something that is too good to be true.

The Operation S.A.F.E. workshops are being provided by the Department of Financial Services, which CFO Atwater oversees, and will be presented by representatives from the Department’s Division of Consumer Services, Division of Agent and Agency Services and Division of Insurance Fraud; U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s office; the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office; the Lee County Sheriff’s Office; the Miami-Dade Police Department; the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office; and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

To learn more or to register for a workshop, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Safe.

News of Interest

Florida Trend: 500 years of Hispanic culture and business in Florida

Reuters: February home prices see best yearly rise in almost seven years: S&P

Gainesvile Sun: Gainesville's Startup Alley covets UF computer grads

Florida Times-Union: Northeast Florida construction jobs finally on track to grow again

Gainesville Sun: UF survey: Floridians buck national trend as consumer confidence grows

Tampa Bay Times: Home sizes growing again

Florida's Bottom Line Shows Transparency

Florida's Bottom LineTechnology has revolutionized government accountability by enabling the public to have unprecedented and easy access to government data.

Florida has taken advantage of this opportunity by publishing state spending data online. Whether taxpayers are looking for information about past budgets, proposals for this year’s budget, or the state’s payroll, it can all be accessed via the Internet. Additionally, since 72 percent of the state’s budget is spent in the form of a contract, it is critical that taxpayers can inspect public contracts.

The Department of Financial Services began publishing the details of contracts online last year through the Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System (FACTS), and you can use this tool to take a critical look. Because of this commitment over the past two years to increasing accountability and transparency in government for Florida taxpayers, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) gave Florida an A-minus this year for overall transparency based on the DFS Transparency Florida website, which houses FACTS.

In this edition of Florida’s Bottom Line, you will also find information about ongoing efforts to continue making government in Florida more open and ethical. This includes articles from Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, who discuss their initiatives on page 8. Additionally, the Florida Foundation for Government Accountability and the First Amendment Foundation provide commentary on how Florida can continue improving in the future.

Got an Insurance Claims Story to Share?

Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate and the Division of Consumer Services invite you to an Insurance Consumer Forum to share your experiences and voice your concerns with the homeowners insurance claim handling process in Florida. Insurance Consumer Forums

Both the Insurance Consumer Advocate’s office and the Division of Consumer Services work with consumers daily via Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s toll-free Helpline at 877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236) to find solutions to insurance claim issues. Policyholders’ testimonies gathered during the workshops will be used to push for improvements to the insurance claim handling process.

For more information, please visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Division/Consumers, call 877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236) or visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com/ICA.

Printable Forum Flyer

Forums scheduled in May:

MAY22WEST PALM BEACH 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches
3200 N Military Trail, Suite 102, Boca Raton, FL 33431

MAY22FT. LAUDERDALE/BROWARD 6:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors East
1765 NE 26th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33305

MAY23MIAMI/DADE 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Miami Association of Realtors®
700 S. Royal Poinciana Blvd, Suite 400, Miami, FL 33166

MAY23FT. MYERS 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Realtor® Assn. of Greater Ft. Myers and the Beach
4081 Center Pointe Dr, Ft. Myers, FL 33916