CFO Alex Sink's Consumer eViews Newsletter

FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S NEWSLETTER

Volume 5 Number 45 November 7, 2008

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Over 1.7 million veterans call Florida home, and there’s no better time to recognize their service and dedication than in the week ahead when the country observes Veterans Day on November 11.

The holiday was originally established in 1919 to remember the signing of the armistice that ended World War I on November 11, 1918. In the 1950s, the name changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, but is still observed on or near November 11, the day major hostilities in World War I were formally ended.

Recently, CFO Sink and her fellow Cabinet members presented a resolution to veteran representatives from Florida to highlight this important day for our nation. This week, CFO Sink will participate in Veterans Day festivities as a means of honoring the many men and women who serve our nation or have in times past, and we hope you will do the same. It is so important to offer thanks to all of the soldiers, from conflicts before the World Wars to those who are abroad today, who put their lives on the line to assure our American way of life.

This year’s Election Day was historic in more ways than one, and we are pleased with the enthusiasm of people to get out to the polls in Florida. Over 430,000 new voters registered between January’s primary and the October deadline, and before Election Day began, over 4 million people had already cast their votes by sending in an absentee ballot or by taking advantage of early voting locations.

We hope these trends continue in years to come, and that more Floridians will be encouraged to participate in the democratic process that defines our nation.


CFO Sink leads 2008 Florida State Employees' Charitable Campaign Event

On November 5, 2008, CFO Alex Sink hosted a “Leadership Event” on the 22nd Floor of the Capitol. Over 125 DFS employees attended what has become an annual event to showcase the importance of being a leader in the Florida State Employees Charitable Campaign.

The Reverend Robin Gray of the Unitarian Church of Tallahassee provided the invocation prayer and CFO Alex Sink encouraged the invited guests to consider becoming leadership donors. Electra Bustle, Executive Director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and Leadership Chair for the FSECC provided heartwarming testimony about her agency’s commitment to this charitable campaign. Last year, both the Department of Financial Services and the Department of Highway Safety had more $1,000 Leadership Givers than any other state agency, each having 54 generous state employees.


CFO Sink LAUNCHES ‘Florida housing help’ web SITE

Product of Sink’s Financial Action Team, Web site offers help to struggling homeowners, veterans, and local governments

To provide immediate assistance to Florida homeowners searching for federal housing assistance, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and her Financial Action Team (FACT Team) today announced the launch of “Florida Housing Help,” a new Web feature that can be found at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.

“Florida Housing Help” offers extensive resources for homeowners, veterans, local governments and taxpayers who could potentially benefit from the recently-passed Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA).

“From veterans to new homeowners, millions of Floridians stand to benefit from the federal HERA legislation designed help Americans weather the current housing crisis,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “We launched “Florida Housing Help” to help Floridians better understand the federal resources available to them. Ultimately, we hope this initiative will bring more federal dollars to our state.”

In July, Congress passed and the President signed into law the HERA legislation. CFO Sink created her FACT Team, comprising stakeholders and financial and housing experts, to identify the funds available to Floridians and also to educate homeowners about how to take advantage of these resources. “Florida Housing Help” is an online tool so consumers can better understand the legislation and easily access the information that the FACT Team has researched and made available.

“Florida Housing Help” will be updated on an ongoing basis as additional information and sources of help become available. For further assistance, Floridians are encouraged to contact CFO Sink’s Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236).


FSECC Chili Lunch enjoyed by CFO Sink and team

The Division of Accounting and Auditing chili lunch and silent auction raised $694.10, all to be donated to the Florida State Employees' Charitable Campaign. With the help of 50 employees, 13 different varieties of chili were served, ranging from very mild to fire extinguisher hot with all the fixings, desserts and drinks.

Enjoying the lunch, from left to right: Accounting and Auditing Division Director Kimberly McMurray; Bill McBride; CFO Alex Sink; Assistant Division Director Christina Smith; Angela Rowe, a Financial Administrator in Accounting & Auditing; and Stanton Beazley, a Financial Administrator in Accounting & Auditing.


An Election Day to remember

This year’s Election Day was historic in more ways than one, and we are pleased with the enthusiasm of people to get out to the polls in Florida. Over 430,000 new voters registered between January’s primary and the October deadline, and before Election Day began, over 4 million people had already cast their votes by sending in an absentee ballot or by taking advantage of early voting locations.

We hope these trends continue in years to come, and that more Floridians will be encouraged to participate in the democratic process that defines our nation.


CFO Sink drops by Mel’s Hot Dogs on Election Day

On Tuesday, while visiting Tampa area precincts and encouraging Floridians to get out and vote, CFO Alex Sink stopped by a local Tampa restaurant, Mel’s Hot Dogs. CFO Sink visited with Mel Lohn, who founded the restaurant in 1973, beside the wall-sized menu of hot dogs, chili cheese fries and other American favorites.


CFO Sink offers Homeownership Preservation Workshop on Saturday

As part of her ongoing effort to help Floridians facing foreclosure and economic hardship, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services, is partnering with War on Poverty, Inc., Florida State Senator Tony Hill, and Wealth Watchers to offer a free Homeownership Preservation Workshop. Homeowners will get the chance to meet privately with financial counselors and lenders.

The event is part of CFO Sink’s “Be the CFO of Your Family” outreach series that helps individuals and families set manageable financial goals and protect their financial security.

“We are committed to helping Florida families keep their homes and get back on solid financial footing,” said CFO Sink. “We want struggling Floridians to know that they don’t have to face their financial burdens alone; we can help.”

Participating lenders and supporters include the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fannie Mae, Washington Mutual, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, GMAC Mortgage, Countrywide, Bank of America, and GMAC Financial Services.

The event will be held on Saturday, November 8, 2008, from 8:30 a.m. to 12 noon at the St. Paul AME Church, 6910 New Kings Road in Jacksonville.

For more information on how to save money and be the CFO of your family, sign up for the CFO’s weekly eViews newsletter at www.myfloridacfo.com.


CFO Sink addresses Florida Council of 100

CFO Alex Sink spoke to the Florida Council of 100 Friday morning, giving them an update on Florida’s financial exposure, including hurricanes, the impact of the slowing economy, and the current volatility in the global financial markets.

The Florida Council of 100 is a private, non-profit organization that is made up of CEOs from key businesses around the state. These business leaders meet during the year to develop public policy to improve the economy and future of our dynamic state.

CFO Sink opened her remarks by sharing that a group of noted Florida economists had recently verified that Florida has been in recession for months. Now is the time to invest in our tourist industry and encourage Americans and Europeans to visit our state. She described her recent interview on CNBC’s SquawkBox, where she made sure to get in a plug on national television to Baby Boomers, saying, “come on down, Florida’s real estate is on sale and there’s never been a better time buy property in our state.”

The CFO also addressed her concerns about Florida’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, “Cat Fund”, which provides low cost reinsurance to property insurance companies and Citizens Property Insurance Company. Our financial risk through the Cat Fund is so high that if a big storm were to strike our state, Floridians would be charged $1.8 billion in assessments each year for 30 years. These assessments are hidden taxes, and are applied to all property insurance consumers in Florida with the exception of medical, workers compensation and mal practice insurance.

CFO Sink worked with state lawmakers this session to reduce our potential for astronomical assessments by reducing the reinsurance provided by the Cat Fund by $3 billion. This legislation did not pass, and the situation has grown worse with the tightening of the credit markets.

If a large storm were to hit our state, the Cat Fund would have to issue billions in bonds in order to help pay homeowners’ claims. With the credit crisis gripping the global financial markets today, the business leaders in the audience shared the CFO’s concerns about the state’s ability to pay claims and help homeowners begin the rebuilding process.

CFO Sink is committed to advocate on the importance of reducing our financial risk. This year, she will be working with House Speaker-designate Ray Sansom and other legislators to make sure we can reduce the risk of assessments on the backs of Florida’s insurance consumers.


Florida’s High School Students are invited to 'Take the Challenge!'

Whether our high school students head to college or straight into the workforce, they will be invited to consider a variety of financial products and services. To help them learn more about saving and investing, using credit wisely, and avoiding fraud, the U.S. Department of Treasury has launched the National Financial Literacy Challenge, a 35-question online test of personal finance knowledge for high school students across the United States.

The test-taking window for the Challenge begins November 3 and continues through November 26. Teachers can sign up their students at the U.S. Treasury’s website: http://flc.treas.gov/index.htm. High school students enrolled in any subject from any U.S. high school can participate.

The Charles Schwab Foundation will award scholarships of $1,000 each to as many as 100 students who achieve a score of 100 percent on the test.* In addition, the Foundation will award $1,000 to the student’s school or organization that contributed to the student’s financial education†. The U.S. Department of the Treasury will also award medals to students scoring in the top 1 percent and certificates of recognition to students scoring in the top 25 percent. Winners will be announced in December.

The Challenge was developed by the Office of Financial Education, Department of the U.S. Treasury, in consultation with four prominent academicians, the National Endowment for Financial Education, Junior Achievement USA, the National Council on Economic Education and the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.

CFO Alex Sink is promoting the Financial Literacy Challenge as part of her “Be the CFO of Your Family” financial education initiative in Florida.


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: Participate in Florida’s Financial Fitness Friday on November 14

Many families in Florida and across the country are struggling with financial decisions, failing to prepare for retirement and gaining high-interest credit card debt in the process.  According to a 2004 survey of Floridians released by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc.

More than one-third of respondents had more debt than savings or investments. About 25 percent put nothing aside each month for retirement, while another 25 percent waited until they were in their 40s or 50s.

Almost one in five reported having suffered a financial crisis due to medical expenses, a job loss or a divorce. More than 80 percent had credit cards and more than 50 percent reported debt levels ranging from $2,000 to $20,000.

In response, Florida’s Financial Fitness Friday was created by the Florida Institute of CPAs (FICPA) to provide Florida residents with general financial guidance and encourages them to complete an annual financial “fitness” checkup at least once a year.

From 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 14., FICPA members will offer assistance to fellow Floridians free of charge. People with basic financial questions or those in need of general financial guidance can call the FICPA Financial Fitness Hotline at 1-800-342-3197, Ext. 554 or post a question on the FICPA Web site and a CPA volunteer will respond.

Promoting this innovative financial literacy program is part of the CFO Alex Sink’s “Be the CFO of Your Family” initiative, which started in September.


November is Long-Term Care Insurance Awareness Month

Consider purchasing long-term care insurance

Long-term care refers to a wide range of medical, personal and social services. You may need this type of care if you have a prolonged illness or disability. This care may include help with daily activities, as well as home health care, adult daycare, nursing home care or care in a group living facility. Long-term care insurance is one way to pay for long-term care. It is designed to cover all or some of the services provided by long-term care. The Web site for the National Clearinghouse for Long-term Care Information features a number of resources to help individuals start the planning process, including interactive tools such as a savings calculator, contact information for a range of programs and services, and real-life examples of how individuals have planned successfully for long–term care.

Long-term care policies have an elimination period, which is the number of days you must need nursing home care or home health care before your policy pays benefits. A shorter elimination period will mean you pay a higher premium. Elimination periods may range from 0 to 180 days. In addition, a long–term care policy does not guarantee coverage unless you satisfy certain requirements. For example, most policies require that you be unable to perform a given number of daily living activities, such as dressing, bathing and eating without assistance. Also, most policies have a benefit trigger for cognitive impairment. For example: as a policyholder you can only qualify for these benefits if you are unable to pass a test assessing your mental functioning.

The benefit amount usually is a daily benefit ranging from $50 to $250 per day. You may choose a benefit period that is a specific number of days, months or years. A maximum benefit period may range from one year to the remainder of your lifetime. It is important to ask the person selling the policy if the benefit amounts will increase with inflation and if that coverage increases your premium.

Every policy has an exclusion section. Some states do not allow certain exclusions. Many long-term care policies exclude coverage for the following:

Considerations before buying long-term care insurance

Whether you should buy long-term care insurance depends on your age and life expectancy, gender, family situation, health status, income and assets.

Age and Life Expectancy: The longer you live, the more likely it is that you will need long-term care. The younger you are when you buy the insurance, the lower your premiums will be.

Gender: Women are more likely to need long-term care because they have longer life expectancies.

Family Situation: If you have a spouse or adult children, you may be more likely to receive care at home from family members. If family care is not available and you cannot care for yourself, paid care outside the home may be the only alternative. Different policies may cover different types of long–term care. It is important to buy a policy that will cover the type of care you expect to need and will be available in your area.

Health Status: If chronic or debilitating health conditions run in your family, you could be at greater risk than another person of the same age and gender.

Income and Assets: You may choose to buy a long-term care policy to protect assets you have accumulated. On the other hand, a long-term care policy is not a good choice if you have few assets or a limited income. Some experts recommend you spend no more than five percent of your income on a long–term care policy.

Do you qualify for Medicaid?

As an older adult, you may qualify for Medicaid, which pays almost half of the nation’s long–term care bills. To qualify for Medicaid, your monthly income must be less than the federal poverty level, and your assets cannot exceed certain limits. Medicaid will cover you only in Medicaid-approved nursing homes that offer the level of care you need. Under certain circumstances, Medicaid will pay for home health care.

Some states have long-term care insurance programs designed to help people with the financial impact of spending down to meet Medicaid eligibility standards. Under these “partnership” programs, when you buy a federally qualified partnership policy, you will receive partial protection against the normal Medicaid requirement to spend down your assets to become eligible. Check with your state insurance department or a counseling program to see if these policies are available in your state.

Key points to remember:

The Web site for the National Clearinghouse for Long-term Care Information features a number of resources to help individuals start the planning process, including interactive tools such as a savings calculator, contact information for a range of programs and services, and real-life examples of how individuals have planned successfully for long-term care.

The Clearinghouse was authorized by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which mandates that they provide the following: objective information to help consumers decide whether to purchase long-term care insurance or to pursue other private market alternatives that pay for long-term care; information about states with long-term care insurance partnerships under the Medicaid program; and information about the availability and limitations of coverage for long-term care under the Medicaid program.

For more information, contact the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


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

These tips are 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 rainforests of the world.

Let the beautiful weather come inside this time of year

Depending on the part of Florida you live in, one thing’s certain: the weather is definitely changing. In North Florida, instead of turning on the heat during the day, try simply letting the sunshine heat your home by opening your drapes blinds, and keep the heat inside by closing them when the sun goes down.

In southern parts of the state, take advantage of the fair weather to save on the air conditioning bills and open up your windows. By making the most of the pleasant weather, you can save money and energy.