FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 5, Number 32, August 8, 2008

HOME

Fellow Floridians:

It is back-to-school time, and millions of parents are helping their children get ready for another rigorous academic year. No doubt, you are buying pencils, erasers, books, and countless other supplies to help your children get prepared.

Don’t forget to add health insurance to your list! In order to do well at school, children need to be healthy, and that means access to preventative health care. At Florida KidCare, you can purchase affordable health insurance for your children!

Did you know:

  • Florida KidCare is a public-private partnership that helps families purchase affordable health insurance for their children;

  • More than 1.4 million children currently have insurance through Florida KidCare;

  • Some of the services covered by Florida KidCare are doctor visits, check-ups and shots, hospital visits, surgery, prescriptions, emergencies, vision and hearing, dental visits, mental health and more;

  • Families pay based on their income level, with many working families paying $20 a month or less;

You can apply online at www.floridakidcare.org.

“We have a simple message: KidCare is open for business and is providing quality health insurance at an affordable price,” said CFO Sink, who chairs the Healthy Kids Board. “With Florida KidCare, many working families are ensuring their children have access to preventative health care.”


CFO SINK RECEIVES CHAMPION FOR BUSINESS AWARD

This week, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink became the first Cabinet member in history to receive a Champion for Business Award from the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF). While receiving the award, CFO Sink addressed the organization during a luncheon last Tuesday in Tallahassee.

Instituted in 2003, Champion for Business awards are given to dedicated leaders who support initiatives that help jumpstart the economy and encourage growth of Florida’s business. A Champion for Business is a strong elected official who promotes policies to grow Florida’s economy, increase competition and encourage prosperity for all citizens.


CFO SINK: FLORIDA’S UNCLAIMED PROPERTY AUCTION RAISES RECORD FUNDS FOR FLORIDA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Auction draws hundreds and raises more than $925,000 for education

Bidders from around the nation descended on Tampa Bay last Saturday to find lost treasure at Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s annual Unclaimed Property Auction. Coordinated by CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services, Bureau of Unclaimed Property (Bureau), the auction shattered previous auction records by raising $925,550 for Florida’s public schools — a $108,000 increase over last year.

“I am thankful to the Floridians who bid on the wonderful items up for auction and the members of our Bureau who worked so hard to make this event a success,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Bureau. “Not only did we raise a record-breaking $925,550 for Florida school children, we also raised awareness about our mission of reuniting Floridians with their unclaimed property.”

The Bureau’s first priority is to reunite Floridians with their lost property. Every year, the Bureau receives millions in assets and abandoned contents of safe deposit boxes, and has had tremendous success in finding owners. During Sink’s tenure as CFO, more than $322 million has been returned to the rightful owners (or heirs) of 496,374 accounts.

The Bureau spends up to two years searching for the rightful owners or heirs after receiving items in safe deposit boxes that have been abandoned at least three years. When owners or heirs cannot be found, the items are auctioned. While the proceeds from the auctioned items are transferred to the State School Trust Fund, the money is held in the original owners' name and can be claimed for free at any time.

More than 400 lots were sold during Saturday’s auction, with the proceeds going to the State School Trust Fund. The top selling item was a pair of platinum and gold earrings, each bearing a 3 carat European cut diamond, which sold for $18,000. Other top selling items included:

  • a 100-ounce bar of .999 fine silver, which sold for $1,800;

  • a collection of 13 gold coins, 1915 Austrian restrike (100 Coronas), which sold for $11,000;

  • a bow-shaped platinum and yellow gold brooch with 393 diamonds and 93 sparkling rubies, which sold for $16,000; and

  • a vintage collection of 1905 bronze opera glasses, 1921 Morgan dollar keychain and Cartier lighter, which sold for $950.

Floridians are encouraged to search the Unclaimed Property Web site at www.FLTreasureHunt.org  for their own names and the names of their family members and ancestors. Many of the accounts held by the state are in the name of deceased relatives, and it can be difficult for the state to locate the heirs of these accounts. Floridians can also contact the Bureau at 1-88-VALUABLE. Unclaimed property may always be claimed free of charge.

The Bureau is currently holding 7.8 million accounts, mostly from dormant accounts in financial institutions, unclaimed utility deposits, insurance benefits, premium refunds, uncashed checks and trust accounts, as well as watches, jewelry, coins, stamps and historical items from abandoned safe deposit boxes. Since the program's inception 47 years ago, the Bureau has successfully reunited owners with more than $1.2 billion in unclaimed property. During the past five years, the program has returned more than $697 million, more than 60 percent of all the money returned since the beginning of the program – due largely to aggressive efforts by the program to contact owners.


CFO SINK HONORS SUSTAINABLE FLORIDA AWARD RECIPIENTS

At Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink honored the winners of the Sustainable Florida Awards.  Sustainable Florida awards are given to Floridians, businesses and governments who have made a commitment to a Sustainable Florida and have demonstrated exemplary leadership.

Sustainable Florida award winners promote the goals of a healthy environment, a prosperous economy, a satisfying quality of life, broad public participation, and vibrant, livable communities. 

This year, the Council for Sustainable Florida honored the following winners:

SUSTAINABLE FLORIDA SMALL BUSINESS BEST PRACTICE AWARD
Al & Erin Rosas - Rosas Farms

SUSTAINABLE FLORIDA LARGE BUSINESS BEST PRACTICE AWARD
Valley Forge Fabrics, Inc.

SUSTAINABLE FLORIDA GOVERNMENT BEST PRACTICE AWARD
City of Tallahassee

SUSTAINABLE FLORIDA NON-PROFIT BEST PRACTICE AWARD
Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass

SUSTAINABLE FLORIDA BUSINESS PARTNERSHIP BEST PRACTICE AWARD
Jacobs / Lockheed Martin - Building 10 Demolition

SUSTAINABLE FLORIDA LEADERSHIP BEST PRACTICE AWARD
Augusto Casamayor – AC Graphics

GREEN BUILDING BEST PRACTICE AWARD

Space Coast Architects, P.A.

SUSTAINABLE FLORIDA LEGACY AWARD
Clyde Butcher


My Family CFO
Are you the chief financial officer of your family? Are you always looking out for the best deals, wise investments and smart moves for your family's financial security?

As your family's fiscal watch dog, keep an eye on this column for money-smart ideas from the Chief Financial Officer of Florida, Alex Sink.

IDEA: EMERGENCY FUNDS

It is wise to establish and maintain an emergency fund.

Emergency funds are highly-liquid savings accounts you can tap to help pay for unplanned events— like job loss, home repairs or other unexpected expenses.

We purchase insurance to protect us during many of life’s emergencies, but it won’t cover everything. Many insurance policies require significant deductibles or co-pays before the insurance coverage kicks in.

Studies have shown that you are more likely to accumulate debt if you don’t establish an emergency savings account. Some people have a tendency to use high-interest credit cards or payday loans to cover emergencies.

It may seem difficult to include an emergency fund as a part of your budget, but the truth is you can’t afford not to have one. A good rule of thumb is to save enough to cover three months worth of expenses. Review your financial situation and start saving today.


MONEY IN YOUR POCKET - DON'T MISS OUT ON YOUR STIMULUS PAYMENT

Have you received your stimulus payment? More than 400,000 eligible Florida seniors and veterans have not filed for their stimulus checks. That’s more than $120 million that eligible Floridians are leaving on the table. The good news – it’s not too late!

If you want your stimulus payment, you need to file a tax return first. This is especially important for retirees and disabled veterans who don't normally need to file taxes. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began sending out letters earlier this summer reminding eligible taxpayers who have not filed and extending the deadline to file until October 15, 2008.

“Many of Florida’s retirees, disabled citizens and veterans are entitled to an economic stimulus payment, but only if they request it by October 15, 2008,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink. 

The most common reasons eligible recipients haven not filed for the stimulus payments include confusion with the eight-page booklet explaining how to fill out the 1040A form to get the one-time payment, or the unfounded concern that filing for the stimulus will impact current benefits or tax status. Fortunately, there's still time to file a 2007 federal income tax return and receive $300 - or $600 for those married and filing jointly - this year. Some also may be eligible for an additional $300 for each qualifying child.

The IRS wants Floridians to know that recipients will not owe taxes on their stimulus payment, and that receiving a stimulus payment does not have any impact on the eligibility for other federal benefits.

To be eligible for a stimulus payment, a federal income tax return for 2007 must show at least $3,000 in qualifying income, such as earned income, Social Security benefits, certain veterans' benefits and certain Railroad Retirement benefits. Supplemental Security Income is not qualifying income.

Floridians with questions can contact the Florida Department of Financial Services Consumer Helpline by calling 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236), toll-free in Florida and (850) 413-3030 from out of state. The IRS phone number for stimulus check questions is 1-866-234-2942 or visit the IRS at www.irs.gov for more information and local office locations.


STATE FIRE COLLEGE HOLDS FIRST ANNUAL FIRE RESCUE CADET ACADEMY

Forty-six cadets and 10 advisors descended on the Florida State Fire College in Ocala for the first annual Fire Rescue Cadet Academy.

A section of the Florida Fire Chiefs Association, the cadet program was established to help train Florida’s future firefighters.

“It has been a pleasure having the cadets on our campus,” said Dave Casey, Bureau Chief of the Florida State Fire College. “We hope we have helped instill in them the motto of the program: Preparing Tomorrow’s Firefighters Today. We look forward to bringing back and growing the program next year."

The cadets’ training helped familiarize attendees with fire hoses, nozzles, and hose streams; with each cadet getting the opportunity to operate the nozzle individually and as a group.

Training came alive when the cadets played a game of soccer where only the water from the hose could touch the ball. This drill gave the real feel of maneuvering a charged hose line.

Another drill focused on properly putting on fire gear in a hurry. And, you can learn how to better move around in your protective gear by playing a game of volleyball.

After reviewing and practicing tying safety and rescue knots, the cadets took a “step of faith” to see if their ties would hold. As they stepped off that ledge, all were pleased that they had made the ties correctly.

Next, the cadets traveled through a plywood maze with twists, turns and obstacles for nearly 100 feet. After the maze, the cadets simulated searching for a victim in a three-room apartment, set up with old discarded furniture. Since there was no smoke, cadets wore protective hoods to simulate the visual difficulty experienced during a fire.

At weekend's end, the cadets gathered in an auditorium for their graduation ceremony, which included an honor guard’s presentation of the colors and comments from Lt. Rodney Robertson of Martin County Fire Rescue, Susan Schell, Fire College Instructor Supervisor, and Dave Casey, Bureau Chief of the Florida State Fire College.


INSURANCE FRAUD: WHAT IS IT AND HOW DO I REPORT IT?

Each year, insurance fraud costs companies and consumers alike tens of billions of dollars. In order to better identify and reduce incidents of insurance fraud — and, most important, protect consumers — the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) offers the following tips for identifying and responding to insurance fraud.

What Is Insurance Fraud?
Insurance fraud occurs when an insurance company, agent, adjuster or consumer commits a deliberate deception in order to obtain an illegitimate gain. It can occur during the process of buying, using, selling or underwriting insurance.

What Types of Insurance Fraud Are There?
Fake insurance companies defraud consumers by collecting premiums for bogus policies with no intention of paying claims. These “companies” might offer policies at costs that are significantly lower than competitors’ prices or they might be difficult to reach by phone — if there is a listed phone number at all. Consumers should check in advance that they are dealing with a legitimate, licensed insurer before signing an application for a policy. Your state insurance department can provide licensing information for a company or agent. For a link to your state insurance department Web site, go to www.naic.org/state_web_map.htm.

Legitimate companies that are not licensed by the state to sell insurance might lead consumers to think they are selling “insurance” while evading state insurance regulations. A company selling a health discount plan might call the plan insurance when it is really an unregulated, non-insurance product. If you question whether a product you are offered is insurance, contact your state insurance department.

Individuals within the insurance industry have also deceived consumers for personal gain. For example, an unscrupulous insurance agent might collect premiums from a customer without passing them along to the company. The consumer believes that their premiums are being properly handled while the insurance company thinks the policyholder is not paying their premiums and, therefore, cancels or nonrenews the consumer's policy. If you do not receive an insurance ID card or a copy of your policy in a timely manner, this could be an indication that your premiums have not been paid to your insurance company. If you have questions or concerns, contact your insurance company directly or call your state insurance department.

Consumers can also be guilty of insurance fraud. Deliberate attempts to stage an accident, injury, theft, arson or other type of loss that would be covered under an insurance policy; exaggerating a legitimate claim; and/or knowingly omitting or providing false information on an application for a policy are all examples of consumer insurance fraud.

How do I report a suspected incident of Insurance Fraud?
If you believe that you have been a victim of insurance fraud, or if you are aware of an instance of insurance fraud, it is important to

  • Contact your state insurance department to file a complaint against the insurance company; and/or

  • Visit www.naic.org and complete the form provided by the Online Fraud Reporting System (OFRS). Through the OFRS, the NAIC and state regulators are encouraging consumers to take a proactive role in identifying and reporting insurance fraud. Not only does this minimize future instances of insurance fraud, but it also reduces unnecessary insurance costs.  N

Who Responds to Insurance Fraud?
Most states have special fraud bureaus — frequently housed within the department of insurance — to address the growing problem of insurance fraud. These bureaus take referrals and investigate cases regarding insurance fraud from various sources, such as law enforcement agencies, insurance companies and consumer complaints.

State insurance departments have recently sought to enhance their collection of information from consumers, insurance producers and employees of insurers concerning alleged violations of insurance laws and regulations. Consumers can contact their state insurance department if they have questions regarding possible fraudulent activity.

Stop. Call. Confirm.
If you are unsure about the insurance company or agent you are dealing with, STOP before signing any paperwork or writing a check; CALL your state insurance department — easily reached by phone; and CONFIRM the company or agent offering insurance is legitimate and licensed in the state.

For more information about auto, home, life and health insurance options, as well as tips for choosing the coverage that is right for you and your family, visit www.insureUonline.org.


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

Consumer eViews  MyFloridaCFO.com/PressOffice/Newsletter/