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

         Volume 5, Number 18, May 2, 2008

SINE DIE!

Today was the last day of the 2008 Legislative Session, known as Sine Die. During the last 60 days, elected officials from across our state struggled to balance a state budget with decreased revenues.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink worked with legislators throughout the session to pass laws that protect Floridians, including bolstering penalties for fraudulently selling annuities to seniors, requiring better training for public adjusters while regulating fees, and improving the My Safe Florida Home hurricane mitigation program.

Floridians still face $28 billion in hurricane risk in the event of a catastrophic storm. CFO Sink will continue to urge fiscally responsible legislation to reduce the risk of hurricane assessments on Florida’s families and businesses.


CFO SINK & INSURANCE CONSUMER ADVOCATE ON PASSAGE OF PRO-CONSUMER PUBLIC ADJUSTER LEGISLATION

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and interim Insurance Consumer Advocate Terry Butler applauded the Legislature’s passage of the important public adjuster reforms within Senate Bill 2012. CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services licenses and regulates public adjusters, who are retained by policyholders to assist in preparing, filing and adjusting insurance claims. 

The reforms arose out of the Task Force on Citizens Property Insurance Claims Handling and Resolution, which is managed by the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate and chaired by State Senator Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey). Originally sponsored by Sen. Fasano and State Representative Julio Robaina (R-Miami), the reforms limit the contingency fees charged by adjusters, prohibit intrusive solicitation practices, and require that a person must work as an apprentice under the supervision of a licensed public adjuster for one-year before being eligible to be licensed as a public adjuster.

“These reforms will better protect Floridians who have suffered losses after a hurricane and are trying to rebuild and restore their lives and homes,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate. “I am thankful we were able to increase protections for consumers who need help in the wake of a hurricane.”

“I am very pleased that Floridians will see greater protection with the passage of these reforms generated by the Citizens Task Force members,” said interim Insurance Consumer Advocate Terry Butler. “These new laws will benefit homeowners who need the help of a public adjuster to settle their insurance claims.”



MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM ANNOUNCES HIGH CUSTOMER SATISFACTION BEFORE HURRICANE SEASON 2008

Survey Highlights Customer Service, Savings, & Ease of Mitigation Program

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink released survey results from Floridians participating in the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program showing 97 percent of homeowners rate the application process as easy or somewhat easy, 80 percent rate their overall experience as excellent or good, and 82 percent of respondents say they are willing to recommend the program to neighbors as hurricane season draws closer.

“One year ago, we reorganized the My Safe Florida Home program to help Floridians harden their homes against hurricane damage,” said CFO Sink. “I’m pleased that hundreds of thousands of Floridians are working with the program to build a culture of mitigation in our state.”

The My Safe Florida Home program, re-launched by Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink in April 2007, has provided more than 214,100 free wind inspections to Floridians. Participating homeowners receive a wind inspection report, which suggests ways homeowners can harden their homes against storm damage and informs homeowners if they are currently eligible to save money on their wind insurance premiums.

More than 60 percent of homeowners receiving free wind inspections have learned they are already eligible for an average savings of $226 and 34 percent of respondents report taking advantage of these savings—without making a single improvement. Floridians whose homes have received free wind inspections from the MSFH program may also be eligible to apply, on a first come, first served basis, for matching tax-free grants of up to $5,000 to make improvements to their homes. To date, the MSFH program has given 5,769 homeowners grants totaling more than $19.2 million, with an additional 26,973 homeowners currently working with the program to make improvements. MSFH may meet the 35,000 statutory grant goal as early as May 2008 and reports 81 percent good or excellent ratings from participants.

Floridians in single-family, site-built homes are eligible for a free wind inspection performed by a qualified hurricane mitigation inspector. Properties not eligible for free wind inspections include mobile and manufactured homes, apartments, condominiums, multi-family dwellings and businesses. The MSFH program has also partnered with local governments and the Volunteer Florida Foundation to offer low-income homeowners an opportunity to strengthen their homes against natural disasters.

The inspection survey was sent to 19,795 participants with a response rate of 23 percent (4,636). For more information, please visit www.MySafeFloridaHome.com  or contact the program toll-free at 1(866) 513-MSFH (6734). Complete survey results available upon request.


CFO ADDRESSES BLUE KEY IN GAINESVILLE; IS INDUCTED AS AN HONORARY MEMBER

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink delivered the keynote speech this week to the Florida Blue Key Installation and Initiation Banquet at the University of Florida.  Florida Blue Key is one of the state's oldest and most prestigious leadership societies.  CFO Sink challenged the new student leaders to stand up for their University and the importance of higher education in Florida.  "There is no better investment for the future of Florida's economy than for us to invest in our state's higher education system," CFO Sink said.  "The members of Florida Blue Key must make their voices heard on this issue." 
 
CFO Sink began her remarks by noting that Senator John Kennedy gave they keynote address to the students in Florida Blue Key over fifty years ago.  It was October 18, 1957, a few weeks after the Russians successfully launched Sputnik 1 into space.  It was the beginning of the Space Race, the height of the Cold War, and a time of great uncertainty in our nation.
 
"Senator John Kennedy left Gainesville in the fall of 1957 and went on to become the first Catholic elected President of the United States of America"  CFO Sink said.  "Today, in 2008, history will be made when the Democratic party will nominate either the first woman or the first African American as a candidate for President of the United States.  Few people would have dreamed that was possible the night Kennedy came to speak here fifty years ago.  But Kennedy understood that with your education comes a responsibility to take your gifts, your passion, and your commitment to others and to serve your common man."  CFO Sink commended the students at the University of Florida for being "engaging in public service and the issues of the day in a way we haven't seen in this country since John Kennedy's election to President in 1960."
 
After her remarks, CFO Sink was inducted as an honorary member of Florida Blue Key.  Other honorary initiates included Jane Adams, Senator JD Alexander, Governor Charlie Crist, Representative Bill Galvano, Marion Hoffman, Hjalma Johnson, Judge Manuel Menendez Jr., Representative Bryan Nelson, Justice Barbara Pariente, Representative Joe Pickens, Ken Plante, Senator Bill Posey, Representative Franklin Sands and Representative Ray Sansom.
 

CFO SINK CELEBRATES FLORIDA HISTORY FAIR DAYS AND CLAY COUNTY SESQUICENTENNIAL

CFO Alex Sink welcomed Clay County Schools’ 41 Florida History Fair competitors, middle and high school students, to Tallahassee for Florida History Fair Days May 1-3, 2008. The CFO spoke to the students about the importance of history and its ongoing role in government and public service. Clay County celebrates its sesquicentennial—150th birthday in December 2008.

The CFO also talked with the group about the importance of financial literacy and learning to manage their money now as they prepare for college. She encouraged the group to consider the diversity of jobs available in public service and include those opportunities in planning for their careers.

More than 850 middle and high school students will be competing in Tallahassee to represent Florida at the National History Fair Competition in Washington, D.C. in June. The competition is being held at Tallahassee Community College and is open to the public from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. on May 2, 2008, where hundreds of entries will be on display. Approximately 30,000 students in 25 counties participated in local and county level competitions, narrowing the field to those competing this week in our state’s Capitol.
 


CFO SINK ENCOURAGES FLORIDA HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS TO PARTICIPATE IN 2008 NATIONAL FINANCIAL LITERACY CHALLENGE

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink today encouraged Florida high school students and teachers to participate in the 2008 National Financial Literacy Challenge (NFLC), available online until May 16, 2008. The President Advisory Council on Financial Literacy prompted the U.S. Department of Treasury to encourage financial literacy education among students by enacting the NFLC competition.

“Financial literacy education is essential for our high school students to be prepared with the necessary knowledge to be successful in life,” said CFO Sink. “I encourage Florida’s high school teachers to register their students for this exciting and important national challenge.”

Florida high school students at least 13 years of age are eligible to participate in a 35-question financial literacy test, as part of a national challenge aimed at raising awareness about financial literacy education.

Participants scoring in the top 25th percentile will receive national recognition from the federal government and the top scores will win the NFLC challenge award.

The test is available at no cost online at http://FLC.treas.gov/teacher
. High school teachers must first register their class at the above link before their students are eligible to participate.

CFO Sink has long been a strong proponent of financial literacy, and oversees Florida’s Financial Literacy Council. Through regional outreach coordinators, her Department of Financial Services (DFS) aggressively educates consumers in their local communities on topics such as the wise use of credit cards, identity theft, hurricane preparedness, small business security, life insurance policies and first-time homebuyer workshops. During 2007, DFS conducted more than 2,680 outreach events around the state.

For more information on CFO’s financial literacy efforts or the Financial Literacy Council, please visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


CFO SINK'S OFFICE PARTICIPATES IN NATIONAL MEETING ON CLIMATE RISK TO FLORIDA'S COASTS

Representatives for CFO Sink participated in a national meeting this week on the risks that climate change pose to Florida's costal residents.  The meeting, Resilient Coasts, sponsored by the Heinz Center and Ceres, brought together government officials, insurers, banks, developers and catastrophe models to talk about the effects climate change will have on coastal cities in the United States.   

The group talked about lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, and the need for Floridians to take steps to harden their homes against hurricanes and the sea level rise associated with climate change.  The Resilient Coasts working group will meet again this year to develop an action plan and policy recommendations for coastal communities.   

Kathy Baughman McLeod represented CFO Alex Sink as a panelist in an insurance workshop titled Models Wanted : How insurance catastrophe models can help business and government plan for climate change  

Climate change brings a wide array of geographic risks, from sea level rise to drought. While the public and private sector are working more than ever to limit the extent of climate change, business and government are increasingly aware that some degree of climate change is inevitable and will pose increasing risks to populations and investments.

With representatives from insurance, reinsurance, cat modeling, banking and government, the workshop explored how different sectors are preparing for climate change, including emerging adaptation models that combine traditional catastrophe models with climate data. These new models not only characterize risk under existing conditions, they also test adaptation options--including infrastructure investments, building codes and land use scenarios--and are increasingly in demand in both the public and private sectors.


Money-Smart Idea of the Week

Idea: How to Save Money on Gas

With the high price of fuel these days, many people have had to stretch their budgets to get around. There are ways to get better gas efficiency by making a few changes in your habits.

Maintain your car properly. A vehicle that runs smoothly uses less gas than one that is poorly maintained. Regular oil changes, air filter and other recommended maintenance will help to give you a fuel-efficient vehicle. Keep your tires properly inflated; it will make a difference in your fuel economy.

Improve your driving habits.

  • Carpool to work; take turns driving to save gas.

  • Don't drive during rush hour. Traffic jams and stop-and-go driving are easy ways to waste gas.

  • Minimize idling. One of the worst offenders, idling gets zero miles per gallon. If you are going to idle for a minute or less, leave your car on, but longer than a minute turn your car off.

  • Drive more slowly. Driving the speed limit is more fuel efficient than speeding.

  • Accelerate and brake easily. Driving aggressively is bad for fuel economy, especially fast starts and hard braking.

  • Use cruise control. It has been proven to save gas as it reduces heavy acceleration and heavy use of the brake. A steady driving speed will improve fuel economy.

  • Group errands together. Run all of your errands in one day, and plan an efficient route to minimize driving.

  • Remove excess weight. Driving with more stuff in your car drags the car down and requires more fuel so lighten your load.

  • Don’t top off your gas tank. Putting in more after the tank is full is a waste of gas.

  • Park in the shade. A hot car evaporates gas and more gas is used to cool down a hot car.

  • Don't buy hot gas. Buy gas when it is cool during the morning or evening hours; hot gas expands and you will end up with less in your tank.

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


IRS RELEASES STIMULUS PAYMENTS AND PAYMENT SCHEDULE

Transfers of economic stimulus payments began this week for Americans who specified the money be delivered by direct deposit to their bank accounts, officials at the Internal Revenue Service announced.

The first paper checks will be mailed starting May 9.  People who chose direct deposit will receive their economic stimulus payments the quickest.

The IRS is issuing payments of up to $600 ($1,200 for married couples) plus $300 for eligible children younger than 17, throughout the spring and summer. The first wave of payments will go to people who opted for direct deposit on their 2007 income tax returns.

There are many people who are eligible for an economic stimulus payment who have not yet filed a tax return. IRS officials indicated that retirees, disabled veterans and others who normally do not file a tax return still have until Oct. 15 to submit a 2007 return to receive a stimulus payment this year.  Individuals who have no tax filing requirement but who have at least $3,000 in qualifying income should file Form 1040A. Qualifying income includes any combination of earned income, nontaxable combat pay or certain payments from Social Security, Veterans Affairs and Railroad Retirement. Use direct deposit to get your payment faster.

The sequence of payment deliveries is being done according to the last two digits of the individual's Social Security number. For direct deposits, if your number ends in 00 to 20, the funds should be transmitted to your bank by May 2, provided your 2007 tax return was filed and the IRS processed it prior to April 15. All such transfers should be made by May 16.

Paper checks will be distributed from May through July according to a similar schedule. Individuals who did not submit a return in time for it to be processed by April 15 may see their stimulus payments later than the scheduled dates, the IRS said.

STIMULUS PAYMENT SCHEDULE

Direct Deposit Payments:
If the last two digits of your Social Security number are, your economic stimulus payment deposit should be transmitted to your bank account by:

00 – 20 May 2
21 – 75 May 9
76 – 99 May 16
 
Paper Checks:
If the last two digits of your Social Security number are, your check should be in the mail by:

00 – 09 May 16
10 – 18 May 23
19 – 25 May 30
26 – 38 June 6
39 – 51 June 13
52 – 63 June 20
64 – 75 June 27
76 – 87 July 4
88 – 99 July 11

Consumer Services Helpline 1-877-My-FL-CFO
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