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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 2, Number 5, January 31, 2005    

Last week a distinctive face recognized from world news, former Prime Minister of Israel and now the Minister of Foreign Affairs Binyamin Netanyahu, was in Tallahassee visiting with Gov. Bush. He was then whisked down the hall to my office where we had the opportunity to talk about many areas of finance and politics.

Netanyahu studied in the United States and returned to his native Israel for military service in 1967. His career went from business to politics, and he was elected to the Knesset in 1988. During the Gulf War his political position strengthened and he emerged as a candidate for prime minister from the Likud party, winning the 1996 election.

In addition to appreciating his candor and intellect, Netanyahu demonstrated a strong grasp of U.S. politics. We talked at length about the “part-time” legislature aspect of Florida government, an aspect of our government that our founding fathers had in mind.

I certainly look forward to meeting with him again.

                      -- Tom Gallagher


MANY FLORIDIANS ARE MISSING OUT ON TAX WINDFALL

Florida CFO, Coalition launch statewide education effort to help Floridians claim millions

As many as 350,000 Floridians could be claiming an immediate cash refund worth thousands of dollars - and now there are free resources available to help them do it, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher has announced.

“We know that thousands of Floridians qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and don’t claim it. For many families, these dollars could help pay down debt or make a down payment on a house. For Florida, it means millions of dollars added to our economy,” Gallagher said. “Our goal in promoting awareness of the tax credit and the resources available is to get money back in the hands of hardworking taxpayers so that they can take advantage of Florida’s unlimited opportunity.” 

Many Floridians could get checks totaling up to $4,300 more in the mail this tax season - that’s in addition to whatever sum they might already be expecting when they file their annual income tax return. In addition to the current year, Floridians can go back three years prior to claim refunds. Those who qualify include:
  • Individuals who earn less than $30,338 ($31,338 if married filing jointly) with one child are eligible for as much as $2,600.
  • Individuals who earn less than $34,458 ($35,458 if married filing jointly) with two children may qualify for as much as $4,300.
  • Individuals who earn less than $11,490 ($12,490 if married filing jointly) with no children are eligible for as much as $390.

Gallagher said getting out the word about the Earned Income Tax Credit is part of the ongoing Your Money, Your Life initiative launched last fall. He said it is especially important in a year when so many Floridians suffered hurricane losses that the public knows how easy it is for those who qualify to file for the credit. According to the IRS, as much as $635 million dollars is still going unclaimed in Florida.

In addition, Leadership Florida, a statewide public service organization, will use its network of business professionals to help Floridians who may qualify for the tax credit.

“Leadership Florida recognized how important it would be for so many working families to have more information about if, and how, they could qualify for this program,” Leadership Florida President Wendy Abberger said. “We are proud to be engaging our statewide network of leaders to promote the EITC and the dreams it may help Floridians realize.”

According to Daniella Levine, who has helped spearhead efforts to link Miami residents with the EITC, says that there are a number of studies that show taxpayers with incomes in the $30,000 to $35,000 range are unaware that they may qualify for the refund and so do not file claims.

“In the Miami area we estimate that up to 25 percent of the people who qualify for this tax refund do not file for it,” said Daniella Levine, executive director of the Human Services Coalition of Dade County, Inc. “With this campaign, we hope to reach as many of those families as we possibly can. This is like found money.”

One Miami resident, Julio Escobar, was able to claim refunds totaling nearly $8,500 over a three-year period. Escobar used the dollars to improve his family’s quality of life by paying down debt, putting a down payment on a house and purchasing reliable transportation for his family.

“I read an article about the EITC and thought we might qualify,” said Escobar. “I’m happy to say we did. This money has changed our life.”

Ryan Priest, communications spokesperson for the Allstate Foundation, said the Earned Income Tax Credit refund awareness campaign “is exactly the kind of public purpose initiative the Allstate Foundation is proud to be a part of. Information is always the key to making wise decisions about our personal finances.”

The Your Money, Your Life initiative is being funded by the Allstate Foundation with support from the Department of Financial Services, Florida Council on Economic Education, Florida Insurance Council, Florida Bankers Association, the Florida Credit Union League and the Consumer Federation of the Southeast. The initiative includes public outreach, a media campaign, and one of the most comprehensive Web sites on personal financial matters, www.yourmoneyyourlife.org. Other organizations supporting the initiative include the Florida Retail Federation, Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Association of Realtors.

The Your Money, Your Life Web site provides Floridians with detailed information on who qualifies for the refunds and where to turn to get free help filing the appropriate IRS forms. With the help available on this website, it is not necessary to pay someone to help them file.

“We not only want to make people aware that they may qualify for this money,” said CFO Gallagher, “we also want to arm them with information on wisely using the dollars they get back.


GALLAGHER URGES ELIGIBLE HURRICANE VICTIMS TO SUBMIT MULTIPLE DEDUCTIBLE INFORMATION

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher called on all Floridians who may be eligible to receive compensation for multiple hurricane deductibles to act now so their applications for relief are received before the March 1st deadline. The Multiple Deductible Reimbursement Program was created to avoid economic tumult the state faced because many Floridians could not afford to rebuild or repair their homes after being charged up to four deductibles.

The Florida Legislature set a March 1, 2005 deadline for applications seeking reimbursement. “Those who may be eligible for reimbursement of multiple deductibles should have received application packages from their insurance company by now,” said Gallagher, “but if they haven’t received them they should immediately contact their insurer and our department.”

The Department of Financial Services has the application available online at www.MyFloridaCFO.com. An application can also be obtained by calling 1-800-22-STORM, which is also the number to call with questions about the program. Applicants will need to obtain information from their insurance company to complete their applications.

“No one foresaw the possibility of us being hit by four catastrophic storms in one season, nor the economic repercussions our economy could suffer if we don’t get homes rebuilt or repaired,” said Gallagher.

Floridians eligible for the program include homeowners, renters, mobile homeowners, manufactured homeowners, cooperative unit, apartment houses and homeowners and condominium associations, who paid one full deductible for hurricane losses and also incurred deductible losses from a second, third or even a fourth hurricane.

Individuals may apply for reimbursement of the amount of their loss in excess of their first deductible, capped at $10,000 for damage caused by two hurricanes or $20,000 for damage caused by three or more hurricanes during the 2004 hurricane season. Condominium associations can recover a maximum of $3,000 per unit that did not have insurance for assessments. Any policyholder who paid more than one full deductible also may be eligible for relief. Applicants must have documentation from their insurance providers to verify that more than one hurricane claim was filed.

Reimbursements will be reduced by $100 to the total reimbursable amount for each claimed filed after the first storm claim; and by any funds received as a grant to cover the deductible through federal, state, county, or municipal programs.

All applications must be completed, signed and filed with the department by March 1, 2005.


GALLAGHER, ICHEIC JOIN UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI TO LAUNCH PILOT PROJECT FOR STUDENTS AND HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher today joined University of Miami President Donna Shalala in launching a national pilot project linking students with Holocaust survivors to facilitate a deeper understanding and learning of the historical significance of the Holocaust. 

“I understand from the students involved in this project that long-lasting friendships have already been built,” said Gallagher.  “In the words of one student, ‘If not for this opportunity, I don’t know how else I might have been able to come across this set of circumstances and experience.’  This is exactly what we envisioned when we created this project.”

The new program consists of three components: academic courses on the Holocaust, weekly visits with Holocaust survivors and training on how to help meet the needs of elderly survivors.  The visits are coordinated by the Jewish Community Services of South Florida.

Students must participate for at least one year and are encouraged to continue for up to three years.  There are 20 students participating in the program.

The University of Miami is a pilot for the national program that is being contemplated in other cities that have a willing university and a significant population of Holocaust survivors.  Florida is the state with the third largest number of Holocaust survivors, after New York and California. 

The pilot project is funded by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC), on which Gallagher serves, in partnership with Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Inc.  

ICHEIC, which has committed $300,000 to do the pilot program, was created to provide Holocaust victims and their heirs an avenue to pursue a claim with insurance companies that held insurance policies during the Holocaust era.   


FLORIDA LEAGUE OF CITIES THANKS CFO TOM GALLAGHER FOR LEADING INSURANCE FRAUD FIGHT 

The Florida League of Cities has presented Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher with a resolution to acknowledge his department’s work in fighting insurance fraud.  Florida League of Cities President Clay Ford, who also serves as Mayor Pro Tem for the City of Gulf Breeze, presented the resolution during a brief ceremony at the Capitol.

In accepting the resolution Gallagher said, “This is a gracious acknowledgment of our department’s anti-fraud work, but we certainly realize the battle is not over.  Fraud is still a serious problem in Florida and is costing our citizens millions of dollars in increased premiums and in increased costs for goods and services.” 

Ford said fighting insurance fraud is very important to the Florida League of Cities, which arranges workers’ compensation coverage for governmental agencies throughout Florida, and he said the league will continue to refer suspected cases of insurance fraud to the Department of Financial Services.  The department’s Division of Insurance Fraud has produced the highest number of insurance fraud arrests and convictions nationally in recent years. 

The League of Cities resolution specifically praised the work of Lt. Skip Bosworth, an investigator for the Division of Insurance Fraud, citing his work in obtaining a guilty verdict in a significant workers’ compensation fraud case. 

Suspected cases of insurance fraud in Florida can be reported anonymously on the Department of Financial Services website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.  Insurance fraud costs each Florida family an estimated $1,400 annually.


AUTO SHOP OWNERS CHARGED WITH INSURANCE FRAUD

The owners of an auto repair shop were arrested on insurance fraud charges stemming from an investigation that showed they underreported payroll to avoid paying thousands of dollars in workers’ compensation premiums.

Edward and Mary Thibeault, owners of Ed's Auto Repair, located at 2936 North SR 7, were booked this morning into the Broward County Jail with bond set at $1,500 each. If convicted, each faces up to five years in prison on the third-degree felony charge. The arrests were made by insurance fraud investigators with the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud.

“Employers who don’t fully cover their workers not only break the law but also break an obligation they have to their employees to make sure they are taken care of if they are injured on the job,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “Workers’ compensation fraud hurts workers and employers who play by the rules and will not be tolerated in Florida.” 

The investigation began after former employees complained that the business owners had been paying them in cash to deliberately understate the company's payroll to Bridgefield Employers Insurance. The complainants told investigators they believed the Thibeaults, both 50, had been doing this for more than 20 years.

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers' compensation insurance. Anyone with information about this case or another possible fraud scheme should call the department's Fraud Busters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445. A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.


BID FOR THE LUNCH OF A LIFETIME! 

Top Celebrities Donate an Hour of their time for Charity eBay
Lunch Auction

 

CFO Tom Gallagher, Coach Bobby Bowden, Attorney General Charlie Crist and Congressman John Mica are among the list of 200 famous faces up for bid to benefit Communities In Schools

 

Communities In Schools, the nation’s leading stay-in-school organization, has launched its third annual Lunch With a Leader ™ online auction at www.lunchwithaleader.com.  The auction, which is hosted on eBay, will allow high bidders to have the lunch of a lifetime with a NASCAR legend, a former first lady, the founder of a Fortune 500 company…and many others.

 

FSU Coach Bobby Bowden, Florida’s CFO Tom Gallagher, Florida’s Attorney General Charlie Crist, and Congressman John Mica are “up for bid” February 1st – February 11th.  Proceeds from these Florida leaders will benefit Communities In Schools of Florida.  Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher said: “As a proud CIS board member, I am happy to participate in this great event.

Along with First Lady Laura Bush, I support Communities In Schools because ‘CIS turns kids on to learning by turning them on to life’.” 

Nascar driver Bill Elliott is quoted saying: “All children have the potential to be successful, but they can only reach that potential when they stay in school. I love Lunch With a Leader, because everyone comes out a winner. One of my fans will be the high bidder and have lunch with me.  Communities In Schools will benefit from the dollars raised, and most of all a kid somewhere will have a better chance at winning in life.”

 

The online charity auction features national figures from every walk of life, as well as state leaders.  Nascar legends Bill Riley and Richard Petty, Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, and Larry King, are among more than 200 leaders who have donated their time – some for the third year in a row – on behalf of children and youth in jeopardy of dropping out of school. Proceeds from Lunch With a Leader will benefit Communities In Schools. Last year’s auction raised more than $147,000 nationally.

 

Communities In Schools is the nation’s leading community-based organization helping kids stay in school and prepare for life. Today, more than 2 million young people every year have access to services through over 200 local and state Communities In Schools programs in 28 states. For two years in a row, Worth magazine named CIS one of the top 100 nonprofits in America.

 

Communities In Schools of Florida currently serves nearly 25,000 students in 15 local programs. 



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