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

Volume 4, Number 17, April 27, 2007

Dear Floridian:

I am pleased to announce that the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program has been reorganized and expanded this week to provide free wind inspections statewide.  The goal of the MSFH program is to encourage Floridians to harden their homes against storms by providing resources as well as financial incentives to eligible homeowners. 

The MSFH program’s first priority is to begin serving the more than 50,000 homeowners on a waiting list from the pilot phase of the program.  These homeowners on the waiting list do not need to re-apply, will be contacted by a wind inspection firm during the next 60 days and should expect to be served by the end of the summer.   

New applicants can apply over the MSFH program’s website at www.mysafefloridahome.com or over the program’s toll-free helpline at 1-866-513-MSFH (6734), but should not expect to receive a free wind inspection before August 2007, as first priority goes to the more than 50,000 pilot phase applicants.   

Even if you are not interested in participating in the MSFH program, please visit our website to find out more about the importance of home mitigation and to get tips and information on how to protect your home.  Working together, we can make our beautiful state a safer place to live.      

Sincerely,

--Alex Sink


AFTER REORGANIZATION, MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM RESUMES FREE WIND INSPECTIONS STATEWIDE
Program expands statewide and is reorganized to better serve Florida homeowners.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program has been streamlined to provide better service and has been expanded to offer free wind inspections to eligible Floridians statewide. The popular program aimed at hardening the homes of Floridians has begun serving the more than 50,000 homeowners on the pilot program’s waiting list for wind inspections and is now accepting new applications.

“I am pleased to announce that we have retooled the My Safe Florida Home program and expanded it statewide for Florida’s homeowners,” said CFO Sink. “Through the newly-designed program, we will work to increase awareness about the importance of mitigation and educate Floridians on how they can better protect their families during a storm.”

The first priority of the MSFH program is to begin serving the more than 50,000 homeowners on a waiting list from the pilot phase of the program. To provide efficient service, 11 certified wind inspection firms were chosen to provide the free wind inspections, based upon scores, capacity to perform a minimum number of quality inspections each week and in-house resources available to manage the large number of applicants to the program.

The homeowners on the waiting list do not need to re-apply and will receive an update from the program via email or letter before the end of April. These homeowners will be served in the order their completed applications were received and should expect to be served by the end of the summer. Any Floridians on the waiting list who have not heard from a participating wind inspection firm by June 30, 2007, should contact the MSFH program’s toll-free helpline at 1-866-513-MSFH (6734).

New applicants can apply over the MSFH program’s Web site at www.MySafeFloridaHome.com or over the program’s toll-free helpline at 1-866-513-MSFH (6734), but should not expect to receive a free wind inspection before August 2007, as the more than 50,000 pilot phase applicants have first priority. However, Floridians who are not interested in participating in the MSFH program and are willing to pay the $150 fee for a wind inspection, can visit the Web site to learn how they can contact one of our 11 wind inspection firms directly.

To date, the MSFH program has awarded nearly $100,000 to 43 Florida homeowners who hardened their homes against hurricanes through the MSFH program. The homeowners, who received free wind inspections during the pilot phase of the program, are being reimbursed for half the cost of a variety of home improvements, including hurricane shutters, reinforced garage doors and roof enhancements. More than 5,100 Floridians are currently working on mitigation improvements through the MSFH program and will receive their matching grants once the work has been completed.

The Florida Legislature is currently considering legislation that may modify some components of the MSFH program, including grant criteria. The MSFH program will keep homeowners informed through the Web site about any potential changes once the legislative session ends May 4, 2007.

The MSFH program helps Floridians identify how they can strengthen their homes and reduces the overall potential for hurricane damage in our state. In addition to providing education about how to better mitigate Florida homes, the program offers eligible homeowners a free wind inspections by trained wind inspectors. Homeowners who have received these inspections also have the opportunity to apply for a matching grant to make recommended improvements.


CFO SINK ON KIDCARE LEGISLATION

With the House and Senate debating dueling proposals on KidCare (HB 7189, SB 930), Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as the Chair of the Healthy Kids Board, went on the House Floor to promote her principles for KidCare reform.

After discussing the legislation with several House members, CFO Sink offered the following statement:

“As Chief Financial Officer and Chair of the Healthy Kids Board, I applaud the House and Senate for their hard work in trying to improve our state’s KidCare program. Over the past few years, KidCare has turned into a spaghetti factory of sorts, with bureaucracy playing too large a role over the needs of families. We must work together this session to put families back in the center of KidCare once more.”

“In addition to streamlining the application process and making it easier for families to participate, I am encouraged by the House’s language that maintains high-level accountability over the program. KidCare is supported with the people’s tax dollars, and we have a fiscal duty to uphold the highest levels of oversight.”


CONSUMER ALERT
FLORIDIANS SHOULD CEASE TRANSACTIONS
WITH NATIONAL FOUNDATION OF AMERICA
 

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is urging consumers and agents to avoid any annuity transactions with Tennessee-based National Foundation of American (NFOA), which is operating in Florida without authority, and immediately contact the Department of Financial Services’ consumer helpline.   

“We advise Florida consumers to never conduct insurance or financial business with any entity not authorized to do business in this state, and we have made it easy for them to check on any agent or company through our website,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the department.  “We stand ready to assist consumers with any questions or concerns they may have.” To verify licensure, ask a question or file a complaint, consumers can log on to the department’s website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call the department’s Consumer Helpline at 1-800-342-2762.   

Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, who oversees the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR), has ordered NFOA to cease all activities in Florida and with Florida consumers because it is not authorized to operate in Florida.   The company promotes itself in Florida and other states as a charitable organization, but investigators are unable to confirm that the company is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a charitable organization, nor have they been able to confirm registration with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.   

NFOA is soliciting Florida consumers with existing annuities and offering allegedly tax-favored monthly payments in exchange for the transfer of their annuities to NFOA.  CFO Sink said the department wants consumers and agents currently working with NFOA to call to help investigators determine the extent of NFOA’s operations.  One insurance company has reported that in Florida alone it has more than $4 million in annuities where ownership has been transferred or is pending transfer to NFOA.


STATE FIRE MARSHAL’S OFFICE WORKING QUICKLY TO DETERMINE CAUSE OF FATAL SATSUMA HOME FIRE

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as the State Fire Marshal, said the Division of State Fire Marshal, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI), is working with local, state and federal agencies to determine the cause of a mobile home fire that took the lives of two adults and two children this morning.  An adult and a child were also injured. 

“This department is working quickly to find out what caused this tragedy,” said CFO Sink.  “But this clearly points out that it can be a matter of life or death to have working smoke detectors and an escape plan.” 

The fire was reported by a 911 call to Putnam County Fire Department at around 2:50 a.m.   Firefighters spent more than two hours fighting the blaze, which was fueled by normal household accelerants stored under the home and was complicated by a second roof that had to be removed to extinguish the fire.  BFAI Detective Robbie Stephens said there were no smoke detectors in the home and the back door was boarded up.  Ten people were living in the home. 

Also assisting in the investigation are the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.  Anyone with information about this fire or any incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766.  

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 or which results in death or injury. 


DETECTIVE AMY, FIRE MARSHAL K-9, HELPS WIN 20-YEAR SENTENCE AGAINST PANAMA CITY MAN WHO KILLED DOG IN FIRE

Detective Amy, a Labrador, advances the arson investigation with some “Lab” tests of her own 

A man who set fire to his home during an argument with his girlfriend was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison after being convicted in Bay County Circuit Court on charges of arson and felony cruelty to animals.  The jury returned the guilty verdict after 13 minutes of deliberation, based largely on evidence produced by one hard-nosed witness – a black Labrador Retriever named Amy that serves as a detective with the Division of State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations. 

Timothy Reese, 43, set fire to his home at 6901 Sunset Ave., around 1 a.m. on September 19, 2005.  Bay County Fire Department requested the assistance of Amy, the Lab, and her partner Detective Tommy Barron, and they discovered samples and burn patterns that proved Reese set the fire.  The girlfriend escaped from a bedroom window with bruises and scratches, but her dog, also a Labrador Retriever, was not able to escape.  

“Arson is always a violent crime-- there is always the risk that someone can be hurt or killed,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as State Fire Marshal.  “I congratulate our K-9 team and everyone who helped bring this criminal to justice.”

The investigation determined that Reese poured gasoline from a five-gallon can throughout the home and then told his girlfriend,” I am going to end this now,” before setting the home on fire.  Because of the amount of fuel involved, Reese was also burned.  An autopsy of the deceased dog proved it died as a result of the fire. Further, despite protests by the defense that the fire was started by the girlfriend, evidence samples collected by Detective Barron and Amy, then tested by the Fire Marshal’s forensic laboratory, proved only Reese could have set the fire. Bay County Circuit Court Judge Dedee S. Costello handed down the 20-year sentence.

Amy has been with the Bureau since May 2005 and is one of five accelerant detection canines that State Farm Insurance Company has provided to the Bureau as part of its Arson Dog Program.  Often when a substance such as gasoline is used, the residual amount after a fire is so small that only scientific equipment in a laboratory can confirm it.  But the olfactory senses of a dog are sometimes more sensitive than laboratory equipment. 

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.  To report suspected arson, call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).


CFO SINK ON EXPANSION OF INSPECTOR GENERAL INVESTIGATION INTO OFFICE OF INSURANCE REGULATION

Six days after directing her Inspector General to investigate whether state computers were used for political purposes in the Office of Insurance Regulation, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink directed her Inspector General to ask Governor Charlie Crist’s Chief Inspector General, as well as the Inspectors General for Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, to conduct a joint investigation.

In addition, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink offered the following statement:

“As Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, I am committed to protecting the people’s tax dollars and our state’s resources. I am concerned about the allegation that state computers were used for political purposes in the Office of Insurance Regulation.”

“At this time, I feel it is necessary for the Governor and Cabinet to work together to expand the investigation. I am grateful for their cooperation and willingness to go forward so that we can get to the bottom of this situation for the people of Florida.”
 

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