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

         Volume 5, Number 14, April 4, 2008
 


Standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. embodied the spirit of a courageous nation—a nation with the courage to throw off the chains of oppression, inadequate representation, and despair.

Through his message of hope, acceptance, and equality, Dr. King rallied our country from the depths of a disparate past into an era recognizing the wisdom carved into our nation’s founding document –that “all men are created equal.” Recognizing a mountain of adversity, he lifted his eyes to the peak of the mountain. King was a visionary, a hero, an American who inspires us today as much as he inspired our country four decades ago.

Today, on the 40th anniversary of his assassination, we recognize the undeniable impact of Dr. King’s legacy. We heed his call for unity, a call that the forces of ignorance and hatred failed to silence on April 4, 1968. Please join us in remembering the man, and the courage, of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


CFO SINK TURNS UP THE HEAT ON THIEVES STEALING ESSENTIAL FIRE EQUIPMENT

Theft of Sprinkler Backflows from Commercial Buildings Jeopardizes Public Safety

Florida State Fire Marshal and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the arrest of two men in connection with the theft of meters on fire department sprinkler backflows throughout Broward and Dade Counties. Fire sprinkler backflows provide essential water to sprinkler systems in commercial buildings, a life-saving resource in the event of a fire emergency.

“These individuals knowingly put hundreds of lives in danger,” said State Fire Marshal Alex Sink. “I commend our State Fire Marshal’s Office for their diligence in pursuing these criminals willing to put the public at risk for their own petty benefit.”

A multi-agency investigation, including the Plantation Fire Department and the State Fire Marshal’s Office, led to the arrest of Brian Williams, 30, charged with six counts of grand theft, six counts of tampering with fire equipment, and one count of violating probation; and Kevin Durkin, 48, charged with four counts of grand theft and four counts of tampering with fire equipment.

“This is a national epidemic,” said Les Hallman, Division Director of the State Fire Marshal's Office. “If anyone is out there is still thinking they can make a quick buck by stealing fire equipment, they better be prepared to serve some serious time—we’re on to them.”

The investigation was prompted by surveillance video from a Target store, obtained by the Plantation Fire Department and handed over to the State Fire Marshal’s Office, showing Williams removing fire protection equipment. Williams, previously employed by a fire equipment company that installed fire protection devices, wore his former employer’s uniform to avoid suspicion by a Hollywood scrap metal recycler accepting the brass meters. Another subject, Durkin, was identified, and stole 19 meters on the first day of surveillance. The meters bring $7 to $10 each, but cost businesses up to $1500 to replace.

If you have any information regarding the theft of fire equipment please call the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations at (850) 413-3173, or contact local law enforcement immediately.


DO YOU QUALIFY FOR THE EITC?

You may qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, if you worked last year, but did not earn a lot of money. EITC is a refundable tax credit  - meaning that you could qualify for a tax refund even if you did not have federal income tax withheld.

To qualify for the credit, you must:
  • Have a valid Social Security Number (if you are filing a joint return, your spouse also must have a valid Social Security Number)
  • Have earned income from employment or from self-employment
  • Have a filing status other than married, filing separately
  • Be a U.S. citizen or resident alien all year, or a nonresident alien married to a U.S. citizen or resident alien and filing a joint return
  • Not be a qualifying child of another person (if you are filing a joint return, your spouse also can not be a qualifying person)
  • Not file Form 2555 or 2555-EZ (related to foreign earned income), and
  • Have a qualifying child OR:
    • be age 25 but under 65 at the end of the year
    • live in the United States for more than half the year, and
    • not qualify as a dependent of another person

For more information or to see if you qualify, go to www.irs.gov/eitc or call 1–800–829–3676 and request Publication 596, Earned Income Credit. Find out if you are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by answering some questions and providing basic income information using the EITC Assistant, available in English and Spanish.


See if you're eligible for a stimulus payment and how much you can expect to receive.

Economic Stimulus Payment Calculator

While Floridians already filing a 2007 tax return do not need to take any additional steps to receive their federal economic stimulus payments, the IRS estimates this special filing requirement affects approximately 1.5 million Floridians receiving Social Security, certain Veterans’ and Railroad Retirement benefits, and low-income workers. 

For additional information on the special guidelines, please see IRS Fact Sheet FS 2008-16 Stimulus Payments: Instructions for Low-Income Workers and Recipients of Social Security and Certain Veterans’ Benefits, available online at www.irs.gov.


STATEMENT BY CFO SINK ON SENATE COMMITTEE’S PASSAGE OF CAT FUND PROPOSAL

 Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink applauded the Florida Senate Committee on Governmental Operations for unanimously passing Senate Bill 2156 by State Senator Bill Posey (R-Rockledge), which reduces the amount of exposure Florida’s consumers have to hurricanes.
 
“I thank Senator Al Lawson, Senator Bill Posey, and their Senate colleagues for their leadership and support of this bipartisan proposal to reduce the risk of hurricane assessments on Floridians and businesses.  With their support, we will eliminate the risk of $5.5 billion in hurricane assessments if we have a bad storm.”
 
The companion bill is HB 7021, sponsored by State Representative Ron Reagan (R-Sarasota/Bradenton).


STATEMENT BY CFO SINK ON THE SENATE PASSAGE OF THE ANNUITY FRAUD BILL
Legislation Targets Agents Using Predatory Annuity and Life Insurance Practices Against Seniors

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink congratulated members of the Florida Senate for unanimously passing legislation (SB 2082) that comprehensively addresses the issue of annuity fraud, including strengthening penalties against agents who target Floridians, especially seniors and the mentally-disabled, using predatory annuity and life insurance practices. 

“We need to deter and punish manipulative agents committing financially devastating crimes on Florida’s seniors,” said CFO Alex Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services.  “I applaud Senate President Pruitt and Senator Bennett for their leadership and for helping my department reduce this widespread and growing problem.”
  
The House Companion, HB 1003, sponsored by State Rep. Clay Ford (R-Pensacola), after unanimously passing the Committee on Financial Institutions, is currently in the House Jobs & Entrepreneurship Council.


CFO SINK LEADS ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION WITH INSURANCE CONSUMER ADVOCATES ON PROPERTY AND HEALTH INSURANCE

CFO Alex Sink met with leading insurance consumer advocates from around the country this week in Orlando at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners spring meeting. CFO Sink appoints Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate, and serves as a watchdog for Floridians on a number of insurance issues – including improving access to affordable property insurance and health insurance.

Bill Newton from the Florida Consumer Action Network organized the meeting. “The consumer representatives appreciated the opportunity to meet with the CFO.” Newton said. “We had a productive and useful dialogue. The CFO shares our concerns regarding the needs of insurance consumers and wants to work with consumers on improving access to affordable property and health insurance.”



Money-Smart Idea of the Week

Idea: Review Your Life and Disability Insurance Coverage

It's important that you have enough insurance to protect your family and your income in the case of death or disability. Review your insurance needs and plan for the big picture.

Purchasing term-life insurance as a less expensive alternative to whole life may make more sense when the need for coverage is greater than available funds. Whole life is useful when the need for life insurance will extend throughout your life, and can gain equity and may have tax advantages.

Term life can also be an effective tool as an "option-to-buy" whole life insurance in the future. Many term policies can be converted to whole life without medical re-evaluation, which is a valuable asset to purchase in a term policy.

Life insurance needs vary depending on your personal situation. Your salary supports your family, pays the bills or pays for college, thus life insurance is important to ensure that these obligations are covered in the event of your death.

Even more important is the need for disability insurance to protect your family in case of accident or illness. Many more families experience disability's need for income than experience the premature death of a wage earner. Shop with care for a disability policy - be sure to check out the company's payment history, and buy a disability policy that covers “own occupation” not any occupation.

You can contact the Department of Financial Services Consumer Hotline with additional questions at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO.

For more financial savings tips click here http://www.myfloridamoney.com/FLSaves.htm


FORECLOSURE ASSISTANCE CENTER OPENS IN WEST PALM BEACH

The City of West Palm Beach has joined with national organizations and banks to create a first of its kind Foreclosure assistance center. The Center is free and is a dedicated to providing direct solutions to homeowners and the city’s neighborhoods that have been affected by foreclosures. Residents of the City of West Palm Beach may visit the Center and speak with counselors at 464 Fern Street from 9-5 Monday-Friday; or counselors may be reached by telephone at 561-822-1575. Appointments with counselors are available on a case-by-case basis for nights and weekends.

Director Emelda Johnson has said the center’s goal is to provide homeowners the most direct services possible and to be a one-stop location for resources. In order to receive any benefits from the Center, City of WPB homeowners must agree to register in a housing education program for a minimum of 12 months. The Center is focused on immediate solutions for homeowners facing loss of their property located in the City of West Palm Beach. The options include direct payment to mortgagees for payments due up to $10,000; negotiation with the lender for new loan repayment agreements; purchase of the home should the lender agree to a “Short Sale”; purchased homes are then available through the city’s affordable housing program; also assistance with finding jobs and making a credit recovery plan.

The Center opened Monday March 31 and that evening over 100 voicemails were left from people that wanted help; about 1/3 of them were residents of Saint Lucie County which is over 50 miles away. Although residents outside the City of West Palm Beach are not eligible for the direct assistance options, counselors still spoke with homeowners outside the city to give them assistance referrals to other partner entities such as the Consumer Credit Counseling Service.

The Center hopes to be a unique model that could be duplicated throughout the United States. Its partners include The Urban League, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Education and Community Housing, Inc. (REACH), BankAtlantic, Bank of America, Foreclosure.com, HSBC Bank, National City Bank, The Housing Partnership, SunTrust Bank, The T.A.C. Companies, Unified Financial Group, United Way of Palm Beach County, and Consumer Credit Counseling Service.


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES LAWSUIT TO RECOVER ADDITIONAL MONEY FOR POE COMPANIES’ CLAIMS
 
Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that the Department of Financial Services (DFS) filed a civil lawsuit against the officers, directors and affiliates of three former Florida insurance companies. 
 
Lawyers for DFS, the court-appointed Receiver of Atlantic Preferred Insurance Company, Florida Preferred Property Insurance Company and Southern Family Insurance Company (Poe Companies), have now determined the state has the right to recover additional money.  DFS’ lawsuit, filed Friday in the Second Judicial Circuit Court, seeks damages in excess of $100 million from the officers, directors and affiliates of the now-insolvent insurance companies. 
 
“Florida’s insurance consumers were forced to foot the bill when the Poe Companies became insolvent so that policyholders could have their claims paid,” said CFO Alex Sink, who oversees DFS.  “We will aggressively pursue any opportunity to recoup additional funds to reduce the assessments levied against Florida’s insurance consumers.”
 
DFS has served as the court-appointed Receiver of the Poe Companies since the Second Judicial Circuit Court ordered the Poe Companies into liquidation on May 31, 2006.   As Receiver, DFS took control of the Poe Companies’ operations and liquidated the companies’ assets to pay outstanding claims.  More than 320,000 Floridians held insurance policies from one of the Poe Companies when the companies were ordered to be liquidated, and most policies were automatically transferred into Citizens Property Insurance Corporation in July 2006. 
 
The Florida Insurance Guarantee Association (FIGA), which was established by the Florida Legislature to handle the claims of insolvent insurance companies, has paid $1.2 billion in claims from the three Poe Companies as of January 31, 2008.  More than 46,600 policyholder claims have been filed against the Poe Companies, and FIGA expects to pay approximately an additional $123.5 million for claims still needing to be paid. As a result of the Poe Companies’ liquidation and need to pay outstanding claims, FIGA assessments could total approximately $790 million on Floridians’ insurance policyholders. 
 
Additional information about the Poe Companies’ Receivership can be found at www.floridainsurancereceiver.org.

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