CFO Alex Sink's Consumer eViews Newsletter

FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S NEWSLETTER

Volume 6 Number 10 March 6, 2009

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Dear Floridian:

While Tallahassee was abuzz this week with the start of the 2009 Legislative Session, the traditional pomp and circumstance took a back seat to the number one issue on everyone’s mind: Florida’s economy. As Florida families are looking for ways to cut back, I am here working hard to safeguard your tax dollars and ensure that what must be spent is spent wisely.

That’s why this week I focused on bringing more federal dollars into the state, money we need now more than ever. On Wednesday, I released a report showing that Florida ranks 45th in the nation in per capita grant funds, and suggested effective ways to help Florida get more of our fair share.

As I think about the “state of our state”, I believe that while we may be on our heels right now, there is a brighter future ahead. We are a state filled with entrepreneurs and small business leaders, and with smart investments and real accountability, we can get our state’s economy back on track!

Sincerely,

Alex Sink
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida


CFO Sink recommends smart steps to get Florida's fair share of federal funds

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink on Wednesday released an initial report detailing ways Florida’s taxpayers can see more of their money come back from Washington, D.C.

The CFO’s initial report, which found that Florida ranks 45th in the nation in per capita federal grants funding, lays out ten initial recommendations to correct some of the inefficiencies that currently hinder Florida from getting our fair share of federal funds.

“Right now Florida’s taxpayers are not getting our fair share of federal funding, and instead it’s going to New York or California,” said CFO Sink. “Especially right now when the Florida budget is stretched so thin, the Legislature and Governor must take responsible steps to correct these inefficiencies and make sure we, as taxpayers, see more of our money coming back to our state.”

Primary among the ten recommendations was the finding that Florida lacks effective and proactive systems to maximize the draw down of federal grants. This is because there is extremely limited coordination between state agencies, the Clearinghouse, and the Washington Office.

“Many times, our state is not receiving these federal grant funds because Florida is not putting up the matching funds required, but we’re also not set up for success,” CFO Sink explained. “This report shows specific steps the Legislature and Governor can take so that Floridians see more of their tax money back in their state.”

Some immediate steps that can be taken to increase Florida’s ability to draw down these funds include:

Read the CFO’s report “Initial Recommendations for Maximizing Federal Funding for the State of Florida” and cover letter.


CFO Sink takes legal action against People's Trust Agency for allowing unlicensed agents to sell insurance

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink on Thursday took legal action to prevent People’s Trust Insurance’s Managing General Agent (MGA) from using unlicensed agents to sell its homeowners insurance.  The action follows an investigation by CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services showing that People’s Trust MGA, LLC is using some unlicensed agents to sell homeowners’ insurance.

CFO Sink issued an Order to Show Cause to the Managing General Agent for People’s Trust Homeowner’s Insurance, charging that the Boca Raton-based People’s Trust MGA LLC faces suspension or revocation of its license if the allegations are upheld.  CFO Sink said the investigation revealed that People’s Trust MGA has allowed unlicensed agents to transact insurance, committing numerous violations of the Florida Insurance Code.

“It is my responsibility to make sure Floridians are getting the best advice for protecting their families and homes by properly licensed agents,” said CFO Sink. “People’s Trust MGA is violating the people’s trust by illegally allowing unlicensed agents to sell insurance in our state.”

CFO Sink also called on Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty to look into the business practices of People’s Trust Homeowners Insurance because of its MGA’s use of unlicensed agents to sell insurance coverage.  Insurance Commissioner McCarty has primary responsibility for regulation, compliance and enforcement of statutes related to licensed insurers and the monitoring of insurer market conduct.

“I hope that Commissioner McCarty will join me in my work to protect Floridians and take action regarding this blatant violation,” CFO Sink continued.

The Department’s investigation is ongoing.  Any consumer who believes they bought coverage from an unlicensed individual is asked to contact the Department via the CFO’s Web site, www.MyFloridaCFO.com, or call CFO Sink’s consumer helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO.  Florida law specifies that people who buy insurance from unlicensed agents continue to have valid coverage.

Read the People's Trust Order.


CFO Sink receives top national honor for volunteerism from Junior Achievement

CFO Sink named from pool of more than 160,000 volunteers nationwide

The Junior Achievement (JA) U.S. Business Hall of Fame announced Thursday that Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has received their prestigious Gold Leadership Award. CFO Sink was one of nine recipients chosen from more than 160,000 volunteers nationwide to receive the organization’s highest award for volunteerism. CFO Sink was honored Thursday in Tampa, Florida, as part of a pre-celebration activity for the annual U.S. Business Hall of Fame.

Prior to her election in 2006 to the statewide office of Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink served as a local JA board member, and led the Junior Achievement Biz Town capital campaign, raising more than $5 million that made the Tampa Bay Biz Town project a reality.

The Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame has honored 240 of the nation’s most distinguished business men and women since 1975. For more information about the event, visit www.ja.org/hof.


CFO Sink calls for greater oversight of state-issued cell phones and Blackberries after OPPAGA findings

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink on Thursday called for greater oversight of state-issued blackberries, cell phones, and air cards, following the release of an Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) analysis indicating that over $17 million is spent each year on the state-issued devices.

“Everyday Floridians expect the responsible use of their tax dollars in Tallahassee. Within my own agency, I’ve created a taskforce to figure out ways to cut costs and use these wireless resources effectively and I urge other agencies to do the same,” said CFO Alex Sink. “The OPPAGA report released yesterday only further highlights the need for greater accountability and oversight of state-issued devices.”

According to an OPPAGA Research Memorandum released March 3, 2009, no single source exists for information about state-owned cellular telephones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and related electronic devices, although the number of these devices is estimated to be approximately 41,000. The memo recommends that the Legislature establish statewide policies governing wireless devices and that the Legislature direct agencies to improve the reporting of such devices.

Prior to the release of the OPPAGA findings, CFO Sink had created a Wireless Communications Cost Efficiency Team to analyze how the Department of Financial Services could more effectively use wireless resources and save money. The OPPAGA memo noted that DFS has 1,135 state-issued wireless communications devices, less than 3 percent of the overall number of such devices.

“I encourage lawmakers to strongly consider the recommendations suggested in the report, including directing state agencies to improve their reporting of wireless device costs. This would allow for more transparency and accountability around how we’re spending taxpayers’ money,” CFO Sink continued.


Leadership Tampa Conversations with Influence – A Conversation with Florida’s CFO Alex Sink

Leadership Tampa presented the 2009 Conversations with Influence annual event at Tampa’s historic Florida Theatre this week featuring a conversation with Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and the St. Petersburg Times’ Metro Columnist Ernest Hooper about what lies ahead for the economies of both Florida and the Nation.

The event drew a crowd of more than 100 to hear CFO Sink address 20 questions from what the biggest surprises have been since she took office; to what has driven the creation of the CFO’s Safeguard Our Seniors Taskforce; the impact of the economic stimulus on the Florida economy; leadership tips and so much more.

On the subject of leadership, CFO Sink encouraged members in the audience to seek out leadership roles, do a good job; and then accept the next opportunity and do it again. “When it comes to leadership, practice makes perfect,” said Sink.


 

Fraternal Order of Police State Presidents' Meeting

CFO Alex Sink welcomed the National Conference of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) to the Sunshine State and delivered the keynote address to FOP representatives from across the country. The two-day event was hosted by the Florida State Lodge and held in Jacksonville, Fla.

CFO Sink and Florida State Lodge President James Preston

Recognized as a key partner in public safety and serving Florida as the top law enforcement officer for the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud and as State Fire Marshal, CFO Sink spoke with the group about how current economic challenges impact law enforcement and the FOP.

“As I talk with constituents around our state about what they believe the primary role of government should be, time and again they tell me that they rely on government to keep them safe," said CFO Sink. “When the economy is down like it is today, crimes of all kinds increase, especially financial crime. I know budgets are tight everywhere, so it is imperative that you are talking to your legislators and helping them understand what is necessary to keep our citizens safe.”


 

CFO Sink's Florida Housing Help joins with Rep. Jennifer Carroll on foreclosure workshop

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s Florida Housing Help Initiative that she launched last year to assist Floridians facing foreclosure joined forces with Representative Jennifer Carroll (R-Jacksonville) to offer a foreclosure workshop last Saturday, February 28, at Florida Community College in Jacksonville. Struggling Florida homeowners were able talk to lenders and housing counselors about foreclosure options, and nearly 200 homeowners registered to attend.

The Florida Housing Help Initiative was inspired by CFO Sink’s Financial Action Team (FACT) which she established last year to make sure Floridians get their share of federal assistance funding. FACT Team members represent a broad coalition of financial and housing stakeholders.


Consumers Participate in Financial Education Events for Florida Saves Week

To help citizens take financial action for their future, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and the Florida Cabinet proclaimed February 22 through March 1 as Florida Saves Week, in partnership with the national America Saves campaign. Several events were held statewide to commemorate this resolution.

On Saturday, February 21, The Havert L. Fenn Center in Fort Pierce was host to MoneyFest, a collaborative effort to provide financial literacy education to the community. Many participants took advantage of the VITA program, which offered free income tax preparation for qualified consumers. Other participants attended vendors’ programs, and visited various booths for information and prizes. At the Department of Financial Services booth, a consumer service representative helped 38 people to successfully locate unclaimed property funds in their names. Based on survey results, the roughly 300 who participated in the event said they felt enriched by the experience. 

On Saturday, February 28, the Palm Beach County Cooperative Extension Service in West Palm Beach hosted Palm Beach County Saves. In addition to the vendors’ booths, a series of workshops happened throughout the day. One retired attendee said the event was “a gift to the community” and that she felt better knowing much of the information that was provided. She attended the event with a large box of personal records to have professionally shredded for free. “It would have burned up my little shredder at home, so I was happy to take advantage of this opportunity provided at this event today,” she said. The woman was particularly excited to learn that she had more than 20 accounts relating to her deceased mother’s investments that she could claim from the Unclaimed Property program.

Other communities are planning financial education events throughout March, including “MoneySense – Saving, Spending and Surviving in Today’s Economy,” which is being held at the Martin County Fairgrounds in Stuart, Florida from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 21, 2009. For more information about events statewide, visit: http://www.myfloridamoney.com/FLSavesEvents.htm.


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.

If you have a creative way to be fiscally smart, share it with us for this column!

MyFamilyCFO@MyFloridaCFO.com

Idea: Make the Most of Your Health Insurance

Those seeking ways to economize should fully utilize existing health insurance benefits.

Schedule your annual check-up now. Regular physicals catch health issues before they become serious problems. Many insurance plans cover 100 percent of wellness care for routine exams, immunizations and diagnostic tests.

Check participating provider lists. Verify your doctor is included in your plan at preferred rates before booking appointments.

In this economic environment, many are struggling to maintain health insurance coverage — and those numbers keep increasing.

When you lose you job, a variety of choices exist after health benefits cease, but it is important to examine options early, as some coverage expires within weeks of losing your job.

Next week eViews will detail the options available.


  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.

Advocate for energy labeling in the U.S.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, the United Kingdom has embraced an important energy tip that is gradually making its way to the USA. Several years ago, a government-funded firm, The Carbon Trust, undertook a crusade throughout England to label all products with the total amount of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions required for manufacture.

Now this labeling of energy footprint is becoming important to consumers throughout Europe. This means that a consumer can shop with regard to energy savings, not just for price or taste. The labels reflect energy utilized for raw material production, transport, manufacturing, distribution and retaining, consumption and disposal.

One thing is becoming obvious to British buyers: approximately one third of their emissions from goods is linked to packaging!

So, take a note, shoppers! Advocate in your community for energy labels on products, and pay careful attention to packaging. Even without a label, it is often obvious which vegetables, soap, or toothpaste has less packaging; and you can save energy by supporting the energy conservation of conscientious manufacturers.