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
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.
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
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.”
“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
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,
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
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
Florida's Bottom Line Shows Transparency
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
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.
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
Printable Forum Flyer
Forums scheduled in May:
PALM BEACH 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches
3200 N Military Trail, Suite 102, Boca Raton, FL 33431
LAUDERDALE/BROWARD 6:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors East
1765 NE 26th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33305
9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Miami Association of Realtors®
700 S. Royal Poinciana Blvd,
Suite 400, Miami, FL 33166
MYERS 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Realtor® Assn. of Greater Ft. Myers and the Beach
4081 Center Pointe Dr, Ft. Myers, FL 33916