Volume 6 Number 13 March 27, 2009
As families try to save money and balance their budgets in these tough economic times, we all realize just how important good money management skills are.
That's why this week, I met with the Florida Financial Literacy Council, whose work in this area is more important than ever.
In the past two years, I have joined forces with the Financial Literacy Council to help a number of Floridians better manage their money, from teaching high school students about credit cards to helping families facing foreclosure stay in their homes. You can look for upcoming financial literacy events in your area by visiting www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
This week, we also had a great tip from an eViews reader who shared a fun idea that gets the whole family involved in learning about financial responsibility -- check it out in the My Family CFO column.
Financial literacy can help us all make smart choices with money now and in the future. As the state's "money manager", I will always try to help all of our families learn to stretch their dollars a little further.
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida
On Wednesday, CFO Sink delivered remarks to a special meeting of the Florida Financial Literacy Council. CFO Sink created the Florida Financial Literacy Council (FFLC) in 2007 to help educate Floridians about important financial issues, such as avoiding excessive debt, the importance of saving, making sound investment decisions and planning for retirement.
In her remarks, CFO Sink emphasized the need for financial education efforts now more than ever. “I don’t think that two years ago when we began this council, we could have predicted the maelstrom of economic downturn facing Florida, the country, and the world,” said CFO Sink. She commended the work the FFLC has done to raise awareness by organizing and participating in events to teach consumers about financial challenges, and also proposed ideas for increasing financial literacy efforts in the state, including making it a graduation requirement for high school seniors to complete one online course in financial literacy.
The meeting was concluded with the presentation of a cabinet resolution recognizing April as Financial Literacy Month, as well as a recognition award to the Florida Prosperity Campaign. Obdulio Piedra, the Financial Literacy Council Chairman, delivered closing remarks.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink Friday announced that as a result of savings from renegotiating existing contracts, her Department of Financial Services has saved over $300,000 in less than three months. A document detailing the 27 renegotiated contracts saving over $300,000 is linked here.
“Especially in our state’s budget crisis, I am working to make sure that taxpayer dollars are being spent as responsibly and efficiently as possible. I am pleased that in my Department, we have already saved over $300,000 just since January through renegotiating our contracts,” said CFO Sink. “I will continue to look for any way we can tighten our belt here in Tallahassee and cut government waste.”
For the past two years, CFO Sink has been a consistent watchdog on behalf of Florida’s taxpayers, instituting cost saving measures in the Department of Financial Services such as consolidating call centers and cutting down on state-paid cell phones. The cost savings from contract renegotiation stemmed from legislation passed during January’s special session (CS/SB 44A) that directs all agencies to review existing and proposed contracts.
“I hope that other state agencies can be just as successful at finding savings for Florida’s taxpayers, given what we were able to save in my smaller Department of Financial Services in such a short amount of time,” CFO Sink continued. “My number one priority here in Tallahassee is to make sure our taxpayer dollars are being used wisely, and I know my work is never done.”
Savings were generated by Department of Financial Services’ employees working with individual vendors to lower contract costs. The Department of Financial Services has other renegotiations currently pending that can result in further savings.
CFO Sink recently unveiled a new website, www.GetLeanFlorida.com, which allows citizens to offer tips on how to cut government waste and inefficiencies. Get Lean has already received almost 200 citizen suggestions about how state government can rein in wasteful spending and has passed these tips along to the agencies for action.
The Governor and Cabinet recognized the Florida League of Cities as administrator of the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust, in honor of ten years of service to the State of Florida with its Special Investigation Unit. Read the Cabinet Resolution.
Due to the number of homeowners who were approved for a My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program grant but were unable to complete eligible improvements to their home prior to the expiration date, the My Safe Florida Home program has extended grant deadlines to May 30, 2009. The MSFH program has already exceeded the Legislature’s goal of awarding 35,000 grants and providing 400,000 free wind inspections to eligible homeowners.
Homeowners who have chosen to use the grant funds must have the work done and their completed reimbursement request packet must be postmarked or received by the Department of Financial Services before May 30, 2009, in order to be reimbursed. The program and any unspent funds will expire on June 30, 2009.
CFO Sink is urging the Legislature to continue funding the My Safe Florida Home program to serve additional homeowners. Floridians can express their support for continuing this program to their local legislative officials. Click here to find your local state senator and here to find your local state representative.
Florida CFO Alex Sink joined members of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents this week to discuss the importance of legislators addressing crucial insurance issues facing Floridians including Florida’s Catastrophe (Cat) Fund, state-run Citizens Property Insurance, funding the My Safe Florida Home program and inappropriate sales of annuities to Florida’s senior citizens.
“The time is now to remedy Florida’s hurricane risk and begin to reduce the TICL layer of Florida’s Catastrophe Fund,” said Sink. “The TICL layer for providing additional reinsurance at discounted rates to the insurance companies that operate in Florida is set to expire this year. We must reduce this gradually to prevent rate shock and allow Florida consumers to prepare for the additional cost.”
The CFO outlined her legislative priorities for the current Session to the group identifying four suggestions to begin to reduce Florida’s exposure to hurricane risk.
As more borrowers become familiar with the Making Home Affordable program, there has been an increase in borrower inquiries regarding the identity of their mortgage investor. To help borrowers answer this question, we have launched the Fannie Mae Loan Lookup for borrowers.
This new tool replaces the existing inquiry feature and provides an immediate answer indicating whether or not Fannie Mae is the investor on the loan at a specific address. Borrowers only need to enter their address information to get a result.
For additional details on the Loan Lookup Tool, please review the Frequently Asked Questions for lenders on www.FannieMae.com.
Just like any other taxpayer dollars, stimulus funds must be spent responsibly to benefit the people of Florida, especially those who need help the most. CFO Sink plans to act as Florida's fiscal watchdog to make sure these funds aren't wasted, and that the money flows directly into Florida's economy as quickly, efficiently, and effectively as possible.
If the stimulus funds are allocated with accountability and transparency, they can hopefully have the impact Washington intended—to help create jobs and give Florida's economy a much needed boost in these hard times.
The progress of the federal stimulus program can be followed at www.recovery.gov.
Florida has up to $13.4 billion coming to the state in the unfolding federal stimulus program. Florida's timeline, found at www.FlaRecovery.com, shows the programs that have applications pending, with many Florida projects in line to be funded.
The Office of Financial Regulation has learned that e-mails are being sent claiming that recipients won an International Lottery. The communication tells recipients to contact the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, to claim their winnings. This is a common internet lottery scam and you should not respond to the e-mail. There is no lottery and there is no prize.
This particular e-mail is from “Microsoft Lottery Promotion” with “CONGRATULATIONS!!! YOU WON” in the subject line. The e-mail also asks that you keep all information confidential and not to tell anyone.
Lottery scams are one of the more common types of fraudulent emails. You should be cautious of unsolicited e-mails that say you won a large sum of money in a lottery. If you initiate a dialogue by replying to the e-mails or by calling the telephone number and leaving a message, you will likely be asked for advanced fees to cover taxes and expenses associated with "winnings" or other ploys to compromise your bank account or steal your money.
You should follow these tips to avoid lottery scams:
If you become a victim of a cyber-crime or identity theft report the crime to your local Police Department or Sheriff’s Office.
On Thursday, March 19, legislators, other public officials and state employees learned about the trucking industry with the celebration of Truckers Day at the Capitol. CFO Sink was one of many interested parties who visited the Capitol courtyard display; she also spoke to Florida Trucking Association representatives, who demonstrated their commitment to economic prosperity and industry safety for the trucks who move freight to every community throughout Florida.
Commercial truck traffic is vital to our nation’s prosperity and plays a significant role in mitigating adverse economic effects during a national or regional emergency. Our economy depends on trucks to deliver 10 billion tons of virtually every commodity consumed, or nearly 70 percent of all freight transported annually by weight, and nearly 85 percent of all freight transported annually by value. Travel by large trucks increased by 150 percent from 1998 to 2004, while the rate of large truck crash fatalities declined by 60 percent, based on miles driven and is near all-time recorded lows. The trucking industry in Florida has been represented by the Florida Trucking Association (FTA) since 1934, and FTA’s Road Team, composed of professional drivers of member companies, conducts and presents safe driving classes to driver education students, civic groups and other public entities across Florida through its “Share the Road Safely with Big Trucks” program.
This week, reader Greg Cox presents an excellent idea for family learning and enrichment that helps the entire family learn to save money.
"Start a family savings and investment club with each family member contributing on a regular basis and participating in how money is saved or invested,” he suggested. “It’s a great way to teach children value of saving and a great way for the family to interact for a common purpose."
By holding regular meetings to discuss what to do with the money, children can learn about creating a gradual path to financial security.
Most importantly, it teaches the value of saving over time.
Individuals interested in participating in a similar concept can check out a local investment club, which is a group of people who get together for the purpose of investing money and learning how to invest money. Or, an appointment with an investment counselor can help create a customized savings plan that suits your short- and long- term financial goals.
In times of economic challenge, families can save money by cutting back on expensive recreation costs. A “green stimulus package,” as first coined by Richard Louv (author of No Child Left Indoors), involves prioritizing nature-based play activities outdoors in green spaces.
In Florida, families have numerous fun choices ---
What about visiting a new state park every weekend?
What about nature walks along the beach or in county lands?
What about starting a bird list, and joining the local Audubon Society?
What about buying inexpensive cameras so that each family member can start a nature scrapbook?
Sharing green places with your children is not only cost-saving, but it can lead to better exercise habits and foster special family bonding opportunities. Using our five senses to enjoy Florida’s natural world provides a truly wonderful experience that local residents often take for granted. Three of my favorites are the Myakka State Park canopy walkway, photographing the fabulous old oak trees in Highlands Hammock, and birding in Corkscrew Swamp.
Earth Day is April 22, so why not take the month of April to start your own family green stimulus package!