Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 4, Number 10, March 9, 2007

Dear Floridian:

On Monday, I joined Florida’s new Insurance Consumer Advocate, General Bob Milligan, as he reported for his first day of duty.  Together we unveiled a new website designed to educate Floridians about our vision for the position, as well as provide contact information for consumers with insurance-related questions.  Floridians can now go online to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/ica/ to access the Insurance Consumer Advocate’s Web page. 

Seeking to strengthen the voice of the people, General Milligan and I will work with legislators to enhance the office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate.  Together, we will continue to search for innovative and practical solutions to help stabilize the insurance market while protecting the needs of consumers.

--Alex Sink


CFO ALEX SINK AND GENERAL MILLIGAN, INSURANCE CONSUMER ADVOCATE, UNVEIL NEW WEBSITE FOR FLORIDIANS

Floridians can log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/ica/ to learn about the Insurance Consumer Advocate

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink joined General Bob Milligan on his first day reporting for duty as Florida’s new Insurance Consumer Advocate.  Pledging to increase awareness of the Insurance Consumer Advocate’s office, the two unveiled a new website designed to educate Floridians about their vision for the position, as well as provide contact information for consumers with insurance-related questions.  Floridians can now go online at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/ica/ to access the Insurance Consumer Advocate’s office.

“As I stated during the campaign, I want the Insurance Consumer Advocate to become a household name in Florida,” said CFO Sink.  “One of the first steps in strengthening the Insurance Consumer Advocate is educating Floridians about this position and how it serves the people.”

 “As the Insurance Consumer Advocate, it’s my goal to help educate and help defend the rights of Floridians when it comes to insurance,” said General Milligan.  “Together, the CFO and I will also be searching for new insurance solutions that will increase competition, stabilize the insurance market and offer consumers more choices.”

CFO Sink has a three-pronged vision for a stronger Insurance Consumer Advocate: proactive, investigative, and challenger of unfair rate increases. 

Proactive - The Insurance Consumer Advocate will be proactive in finding insurance solutions in other areas.  An example of a potential area needing attention is the access and affordability of health insurance.  While property insurance has understandably been forefront on Floridians’ minds, Florida has a real health insurance crisis as well.  More than 3 million Floridians lack health insurance and our state ranks among the bottom when it comes to insuring our children.  A stronger insurance consumer advocate will be empowered to bring solutions and ideas from other states or work with Congress to create federal solutions. 

Investigates Bad Practices - The Department of Financial Services runs a statewide consumer helpline that receives approximately 500,000 financial and insurance-related inquiries annually.  A stronger Insurance Consumer Advocate will examine the real-time concerns and complaints we receive from Floridians everyday.  We can identify negative trends and bad business practices, and a stronger Insurance Consumer Advocate will have the authority to call attention to insurance companies operating in bad faith, using unfair trade practices, or deceptive or misleading sales tactics. 

Challenging Unfair Rates - Floridians deserve a strong Insurance Consumer Advocate who will go head-to-head with the insurance companies seeking unfair and unjustified rate increases.  In order to be effective in challenging unsound rate hikes, the Insurance Consumer Advocate needs to have clear legal authority.  The Insurance Consumer Advocate also should have access to all the same information as the Office of Insurance Regulation. 

CFO Sink and General Milligan will work with leaders in the House and Senate to enhance the current powers of the Insurance Consumer Advocate.  This may include the ability to intervene as a party in legal and administrative proceedings, have access to the public model for hurricane loss projections, investigate insurance schemes or practices that adversely affect Floridians, appeal any action taken by the Office of Insurance Regulation, and hire additional staff in the areas of health and life insurance.

General Milligan was elected Florida's Comptroller from 1994 until 2002.  General Milligan served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 35 years, rising to the rank of lieutenant general (3 stars).  While a member of the Florida Cabinet, General Milligan helped create the current position of Chief Financial Officer.  Throughout his service, he was known for doing what was right and putting people ahead of politics.


MARCH IS NATIONAL WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH 

This year, the theme for National Women's History Month is “Generations of Women Moving History Forward”.  During the month of March, the historical achievements and advancements made by women are celebrated.  As the first female member of the consolidated Florida Cabinet, our Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, serves as a role model for young women who want to be trailblazers in the financial and insurance industries.   

Women's roles have often been overshadowed throughout history. Today, we embrace the part that women have played in American history.  Their meaningful contributions are being showcased and are a rich legacy for our future generations.  Yet, we must continue to instill our young women with a belief in themselves that will help them overcome any obstacles they may face.  Education is the key to providing our next generation with the tools and confidence they need to achieve their goals.

As women continue to strive for advancement, their influence in government has been significant. Florida women have stepped out and are stepping forward to affect positive change in their communities. The following are some milestones:

Who founded Bethune-Cookman College, established the National Council of Negro Women, and served as an advisor on minority affairs to President Franklin D. Roosevelt?
Mary McLeod Bethune (1875–1955)
 

Who was the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress?
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, of Florida in 1989.


Who was the first African-American woman to be elected to the Florida House of Representatives?
Gwen Sawyer Cherry was elected in 1970.  

Who was the First Female Member of the Florida Cabinet?
Betty Castor, Commissioner of Education. (1987-1994).
 

Who is the First Female Member of the consolidated Florida Cabinet?
Alex Sink in 2007.


Who was Florida's First Female Lieutenant Governor?
Toni Jennings in 2003.

Who was the first, and only, Woman United States Attorney General, and where is she from?
Janet Reno of Miami, Florida (1993–2001).

http://www.nwhp.org
http://www.house.gov/schultz/WHM/trivia_answers.html


WINDSTORM MITIGATION STUDY COMMITTEE PUBLISHES FINAL REPORT

On the first day of the 2007 legislative session, the Windstorm Mitigation Study Committee published its final report analyzing mitigation efforts in Florida, including the My Safe Florida Home program, and detailing recommendations for future efforts to harden homes in Florida. 

The final report can be found at http://www.WindstormMitigationStudyCommittee.org.  

The committee was created as a result of House Bill 1A, passed by the Florida Legislature during Special Session.  The committee was charged with analyzing short- and long-term solutions and programs that address the need to immediately and effectively harden homes in Florida.  Copies of the report were delivered Tuesday to the Governor, Chief Financial Officer, Senate President, Speaker of the House and Insurance Commissioner. 

Specifically, the committee cited three reasons for the importance of mitigation in Florida: (1) mitigation helps reduce property losses from catastrophic storms; (2) homeowners are less likely to be charged assessments for catastrophic damage if losses are minimized; and (3) homes and businesses that are hardened are eligible for savings on their wind insurance premiums.  

The committee’s recommendations fell into several categories, including: improving the My Safe Florida Home program, considering new approaches to advance mitigation, implementing insurance and construction reforms to encourage “code-plus” development, providing incentives to encourage home- hardening efforts by homeowners, identifying potential funding, educating and engaging the public about the importance of mitigation, and supporting research. 

Floridians can learn more about the My Safe Florida Home program and how they can harden their homes by visiting www.MySafeFloridaHome.com.


INFORMATION SOUGHT IN $250,000 WAL-MART FIRE IN PALM COAST

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as State Fire Marshal, announced that the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI) is asking for the public’s help in apprehending two individuals responsible for a fire last Saturday at a Wal-Mart in Palm Coast. The fire spread quickly, chasing as many as 500 customers, including children and people in wheelchairs, from the store.  The fire caused about $250,000 in damage. No injuries were reported. 

“This could have been a deadly situation and we are aggressively investigating this crime,” said CFO Sink.  “We hope someone will have information that will help us immediately catch who did this.” 

The fire occurred shortly after 5:40 p.m., March 3, at the Wal-Mart located at 174 Cypress Point Parkway, Palm Coast.  Store video of the fire being set is being distributed to media in the central Florida region with the aim that someone will identify the perpetrators or provide more information. 

The BFAI is working the investigation along with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.  The Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction. 

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is a law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin.  Anyone with information about this case or any incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON). 


STATE FIRE MARSHAL’S OFFICE SEEKS INFO IN FATAL ARSON  IN IMMOKALEE

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as State Fire Marshal, is urging anyone with information about a fire at a mobile home that led to the deaths of five people and the hospitalization of five others in Immokalee to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).

The fire occurred Sunday morning at a mobile home in Cleves Trailer Park, 713 2nd Ave. Lot #18
, Immokalee, and detectives with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI) have determined the fire was intentionally set. It was the second time in as many weeks that a fire was reported at the home.

“A reward is being offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for taking these lives,” said CFO Sink. “We will not tolerate this kind of violence and are aggressively working to bring those responsible to justice.”

Ten people were reported to be living in the mobile home. Four people died inside the home, and six people were transported to area hospitals with injuries, and one died in the hospital. The trailer next door had heat damage and was evacuated.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating, along with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and the Immokalee Fire Department. Last year, the BFAI made more than 500 arson-related arrests and has an arson clearance rate that surpasses the national average. A reward of up to $2,500 is being offered by the Florida Advisory Committee of Arson Prevention.

The BFAI is a law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin. Anyone with information about this case or any incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).


HOTLINE PROVIDES HELP TO PREVENT FORECLOSURES

Statistics indicate that half of all consumers who lose their homes to foreclosure have never contacted their lenders, according to a recent Freddie Mac study.  Also 60% were unaware that lenders might have been able to offer workout options.  The HomeOwnership Preservation Foundation, Neighborworks ® America, Fannie Mae Foundation, the United Way and the nonprofit Consumer Credit Counseling Service have joined together to help homeowners in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure.  The service provides options for the homeowner to consider. 

The special foreclosure prevention hotline is 1-888-995-4673. It links homeowners with free counseling 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, both in English and Spanish.  The nonprofit housing counselor offers consumers free advice based on a discussion of the consumer’s overall delinquency situation and a review of debts that is provided over the telephone by the consumer.  The process takes about half an hour and no identification information is requested from the consumer such as their date of birth or social security number.  This helps alleviate concerns about identity theft, and there is no adverse impact to the consumer’s credit score since no additional inquiries are made on the consumer’s credit report.  Appointments can be made in person if desired.

Nearly $500,000 in funding has been provided for this program so far.  Additional government agencies and a number of mortgage lenders have also partnered to promote the campaign.  The goal for the hotline is to reach homeowners who are behind in their mortgages and fear they will lose their homes.  The campaign encourages residents to seek help early when they fall behind on mortgage payments and learn about lender options and counseling resources. 

The foreclosure prevention hotline 1-888-995-HOPE ™ is available for free to homeowners nationwide.  At this time it is being promoted through advertising in the hard hit communities of Georgia including Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties.  Georgia had one of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates in 2006 and metro-Atlanta ranked second among top 100 metropolitan areas for home foreclosures.  Outreach through community organizations, churches, local businesses and media is providing education and information to homeowners.  The Florida Department of Financial Services will provide speakers for your group or organization about many financial literacy topics and may be scheduled by calling 1-800-342-2762.


Consumer Services HelpLine (800) 342-2762
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