FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 5, Number 35, August 29, 2008

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Tropical Storm Fay gave Florida a soaking of record proportions that left a very strong message - get flood insurance for your property from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). There is a 30-day waiting period until the coverage goes into effect, so don't delay! 

Examine your homeowners insurance policies so you know what damage is covered when a storm hits. Check with your agent to clarify your understanding or improve your coverage before the next storm. Keep your insurance information in an easily accessible place and if you must evacuate, take if with you so you can reach your agent or company claims department after a storm.

Remember, if a storm is not officially designated a hurricane, the standard deductible applies, not the higher hurricane deductible.

Trees and limbs that have fallen can be dangerous and should be handled by experienced workers. Many accidents occur when trying to clear downed trees after the storm -  chainsaws, big trees, fallen electrical wires, and inexperience can be deadly.

Floridians have filed more than 17,000 insurance claims as a result of damage from Tropical Storm Fay, thousands of which are for damage from the unprecedented flooding seen across our state.

Report damage to your property to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) so Florida can receive the federal funds our citizens need to recover from this storm. You can also call 1-877-MY-FL-CFO for more information or assistance.

According to FEMA , as Florida counties are declared eligible for assistance, consumers with damage from Tropical Storm Fay should call 1-800-621-3362 to apply. Social security numbers, information on any insurance coverage, brief descriptions of damage done to the property, the address of the damaged property and current addresses and phone numbers will need to be provided. The uninsured or underinsured will be more likely to receive assistance and can expect to receive it within two weeks.


FINANCIAL ACTION TEAM MEETS ON THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, IN TALLAHASSEE
Broad coalition to report on funds available from federal foreclosure assistance legislation

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink will host the first meeting of her recently created "Financial Action Team” on Thursday, September 4, 2008, to review Florida’s potential share of the billions in federal dollars available from the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008 to address the Nation’s foreclosure problems. The meeting will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the Florida Cabinet meeting room located in the Lower Level of the Capitol.

“Floridians facing economic challenges from the foreclosure crisis, the softening economy and rising unemployment related to our housing industry can get some much needed relief from the benefits being made available through HERA,” said CFO Sink.

“Our state has a history of leaving federal money on the table, and I created the 'Financial Action Team' to help our citizens receive their fair share of benefits. The potential impact to our economy from this program is too important to Florida to take any other approach.”

Financial Action Team members from a dozen housing, financial services, government and economic development organizations have evaluated HERA from their stakeholders’ perspective and will report this week on what’s available, and the process by which Floridians can apply for and receive these federal benefits. Next steps include a Financial Action Team meeting in late September to outline outreach efforts to educate Floridians about the federal benefits for which they are eligible.

CFO Sink’s Financial Action Team includes representatives from the following organizations:
  • Florida Bankers Association
  • Florida Credit Union League
  • Florida Housing Finance Corporation
  • Florida Association of Realtors
  • Florida Legal Services
  • Florida League of Cities
  • Florida Association of Counties
  • Department of Veterans’ Affairs
  • City of West Palm Beach
  • Florida Tax Watch
  • Florida Association of Mortgage Brokers
  • Department of Financial Services

All meetings of the Financial Action Team will be announced and open to the public.


SINK SURVEYS DAMAGE IN THE BIG BEND AREA,
OFFERS ADVICE TO STORM VICTIMS


With Tropical Storm Fay now downgraded to a tropical depression, Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink surveyed storm damage in the state’s Big Bend area on Monday, August 25.

“I’ve seen the damage from Tropical Storm Fay firsthand, and I know that many of our neighbors across Florida are hurting,” said Sink. “They are picking up the pieces and moving on as best they can. Navigating the financial and insurance issues after a storm can be stressful and overwhelming and we want citizens throughout our state to know that we are here to help.”

Floridians with damage from Tropical Storm Fay are encouraged to contact the Florida Department of Financial Services Consumer Services Division at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO for help and information. Whether filing a flood or homeowners insurance claim, or securing a contractor and financing for home repairs, the CFO’s Consumer Services Division, with bi-lingual specialists, can help. Information is also available on the department’s website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com, by clicking on the “Hurricane Season 2008” button.

Since many homeowners may have already begun filing claims, Sink is urging residents with claims to verify that they are dealing with a licensed insurance adjuster by calling the department’s helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO. Consumers considering the assistance of a public insurance adjuster should ask for an estimate of fees, charges and the services included, in writing before signing a contract or any other documents.

Sink has already dispatched several of the department’s investigators and consumer specialists into storm-damaged areas to be on the lookout for misconduct and provide assistance.

“Storm victims should also carefully review the damage estimate and any settlement offer from their adjuster,” Sink said. “Don’t let yourself be pressured and agree to it if you believe you aren’t being treated fairly.”

As the rebuilding process begins, Sink is encouraging homeowners to consider storm-resistant construction and materials. More information is available through the department’s website by clicking on “My Safe Florida Home.”

Residents considering a home loan to finance storm repairs should first contact FEMA’s disaster assistance program at 1-800-621-3362 to see if they are eligible for a low-interest loan. If not, those who seek financing should make sure they understand the interest rate, terms and conditions of the loan.

Also, make sure that the contractor you choose to make repairs is licensed to do the work. Pay the contractor by check, keep receipts and don’t pay until the work is completed. The contract should include at least the following:
  • Signatures of both the owner and contractor;
  • Notice of the right to rescind the contract within 3 business days;
  • Approximate dates the work will begin and end;
  • Amount to be paid, down payment amount and the difference between those two, as well as any fees for permits, surveys or other charges;
  • Never sign a contract that is left blank in any area of the contract.

CFO SINK ON FLORIDA’S DEEPENING REVENUE SHORTFALL AND BUDGET DEFICIT
CFO Sink Calls for Long-Term Thinking and Prioritizing Core Services

The following is Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s response to the recent report from the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research:

The latest report shows a looming $3.5 billion budget shortfall for fiscal year 2009-2010. Although not surprising and slated for next fiscal year, it dramatically underscores the severity of Florida’s growing budget deficit.

“I have a tremendous sense of urgency around this situation and these numbers continue to concern me. As Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, it’s clear to me that even the most optimistic scenarios indicate several challenging budget years ahead for our state. I’m counting on House and Senate leadership to recognize that this situation requires an approach that spans the budget horizon of this decade.

“It’s critical that when our new and returning Legislators arrive in Tallahassee in November that they immediately tackle this crisis and focus on long-term, critical thinking that prioritizes the core essential services that protect our citizens.

“Florida families impacted by the slowing economy and rising unemployment are forced to make tough choices everyday with their budget dollars and government must do the same. It is time for a more surgical and precise approach to funding the business of our state.”


SAVING ENERGY, SAVING MONEY

Energy tips  for Florida families - these actions represent ways to behave kindly toward Mother Earth, AND save money as well as energy.

Presented by CFO Alex Sink's science advisor Meg Lowman, Ph.D., on the faculty at New College of Florida. Dr. Lowman has written numerous award-winning books and is an expert on the rain forests of the world.

1. Use cloth, recyclable bags when shopping. Keep a supply in your car, and get in the habit of taking them into the grocery store. Encourage local shops to reduce (and eliminate!) their distribution of paper and plastic bags. And even better, stop using paper or plastic bags completely!

2. Plant a tree. Trees not only produce oxygen for your personal health, but they are scientifically proven to absorb odors from the atmosphere, store carbon dioxide, provide shade, lessen flooding, serve as a barrier to high wind conditions, and enhance real estate values. This action is also a great family-fun activity!

3. Shorten your showers.  Create a family competition by using a timer in the bathroom to educate household members about how much water they are using in that long shower. In Australia and other drought-stricken countries, showers are strictly limited. Get in the habit of short-showers!

4. Become a “locavore” – meaning, buy local products whenever you can. This will reduce the energy utilized in transportation, reduce extra costs of importing goods and services, and also bolster the economy of your local businesses.

5. Plant native shrubs and ground cover for landscaping where possible. This will not only save money in your water bills, but also provide a Florida-friendly yard that attracts native birds and other wildlife. Visit a native plant nursery if you need advice.


CFO SINK CHEERS PROPOSED SIXTH CONSECUTIVE WORKERS’ COMPENSATION RATE DECLINE

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink cheered the news today that Florida’s employers could see a sixth consecutive decline in workers’ compensation rates.  The National Council on Compensation Insurance today filed a request with the Office of Insurance Regulation for an average 14.1 percent rate decrease, which if approved would constitute a cost savings of about $465 million for Florida employers effective January 1, 2009. The cumulative rate decrease since 2003 is 58 percent. A hearing on the proposed rate decrease is expected in October.

“A stable and viable workers’ compensation system is good for everyone, especially for Florida businesses and their employees – the backbone of our economy,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services, which includes the Division of Workers’ Compensation, the agency charged with regulating workers’ compensation in Florida. “No other state has matched Florida’s rate reductions, and no other state is working harder to take care of employers and employees.”

Augmenting the rate cuts, Division of Workers' Compensation outreach efforts have resulted in a more than 25-percent reduction in workers’ compensation lost-time injury rates, and compliance and enforcement activities have added more than 43,000 employees to the workers’ compensation system during the last four years.

“By improving compliance, we not only protect more workers but also bring more premiums into the system, which helps to further reduce rates,” said CFO Sink.

Florida is a leader in workers’ compensation rate reductions and CFO Sink noted that in the past year, the Division hosted regulators from Connecticut and New York wanting to learn about Florida’s investigative and enforcement operations.  CFO Sink said while enforcement is a top priority, the Division is expanding its education and outreach activities in an effort to prevent compliance problems. 

The Division’s Bureau of Compliance now has certified instructors who, beginning in October, will present approximately 40 continuing education programs a year throughout Florida, focusing on compliance and coverage issues important to contractors and employers. 


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: EXTENDED WARRANTIES -- ARE THEY NEEDED?
 

Common sense might tell you to turn down the offer of an extended warranty but does it make you uneasy to say no? A multi-billion-dollar industry has been built on your saying yes. Many people pay from 10 to 50 percent of a product’s purchase price to extend the warranty. Most consumer groups and many economic experts recommend against the purchase, saying that the plans rarely benefit consumers.

Technically insurance products, extended warranties' premiums are paid in a lump sum at the time of purchase, and the contract lengthens the warranty coverage or offers repair services, typically adding from one to three years of protection.

Many policies won’t cover accidents or wear and tear, but most telling is the fact that most extended warranties are never used by the purchasers.  Warranty Week, an industry publication, estimated that about 20 percent of premiums paid for warranties are paid out in claims, a relatively low payout for an insurance product.

Consumer Reports seldom recommends buying an extended warranty, especially on automobiles. But Consumer Reports makes an exception to the rule on some products - laptop PCs and expensive TV sets - where the need for repairs has happened often enough and cost so much that an extended warranty could make sense. But, most often, an extended warranty is not recommended.

As an alternative, you may consider depositing the annual cost of a service contract in a savings account and holding it as a fund to be used for repairs, if needed.


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

Consumer eViews  MyFloridaCFO.com/PressOffice/Newsletter/