Volume 6 Number 24 June 12, 2009
On Wednesday, I talked with our partners in fighting insurance fraud at the Florida Insurance Fraud Education Committee Conference. In these tough economic times fraud is on the rise, which is why I was excited to speak about the success of our skilled and dedicated Division of Insurance Fraud.
Yesterday, I was honored to talk with many of our state’s school board members and superintendents at their annual conference. And today, I am wrapping up the week by participating in the Leadership Florida Annual Meeting, of which I am an alumna.
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida
Marilyn O’Brien, Executive Chair of the Florida Insurance Education Committee, warmly introduced CFO Alex Sink, keynote speaker at the 17th Annual Joint DIF/SIV Conference held at the Caribe Royale Convention Center in Orlando.
CFO Sink expressed her gratitude to more than 500 participants and encouraged them to learn from this conference and to continue to fight insurance fraud in our state. She also mentioned how proud she is of all the accomplishments the Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF), who already received its accreditation from the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement this year.
Sink also mentioned that one of her top priorities is to protect the funding of our law enforcement agencies and in these tough times. An implementation recently approved by the legislature was DIF’s “Major Case Squad”, consisting of three detectives and one analyst housed in Tallahassee who will be responsible for working high-profile, large insurance fraud cases statewide.
CFO Sink closed her presentation by encouraging the continued collaboration between the industry and DIF in order to combat insurance fraud.
On Thursday, CFO Sink had the opportunity to speak to Florida’s School Board Association and Florida Association of School Superintendents at their spring conference in Tampa. Alex thanked attendees for all the excellent work they do on behalf of all Floridians to help shape responsive and effective education policy in our state. CFO Sink also talked about how much she valued our schools, which are facing even tighter budget cuts, as a mom whose two children went to Florida public schools.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday sent a letter to State Board of Administration (SBA) Director Ash Williams, providing direction and recommendation as the SBA updates their initial FY 2009-2010 SBA Budget Proposal.
At Tuesday’s SBA Board of Trustees Meeting, Director Williams withdrew his proposed FY 2009-2010 budget, instead asking for a continuation budget and time for revisions. CFO Sink met with Director Williams yesterday to be briefed on the budget, and expressed serious concern over decisions to increase the overall budget by over $3 million (10.56%), without a line-by-line analysis of where efficiencies and cost-cutting measures could be found.
At a time when state agencies and Florida businesses are doing more with less, CFO Sink also requested a review of the SBA’s bonus program and questioned the decision to hire additional staff instead of converting vacant positions.
“It is my hope that during this reevaluation process you will be able to develop a budget that continues to strengthen the work and transparency of the SBA, while diligently cutting costs and promoting efficiencies,” CFO Sink wrote.
Drawing upon her nearly three decades of private-sector business experience, CFO Sink recently passed motions requiring the SBA to hold quarterly board meetings and to have representatives from the trustees study expanding the structure of the board, based on her recommendation from over a year ago.
Florida CFO Alex Sink and 1st Judicial Circuit State Attorney William Eddins on Tuesday announced the arrest of two Escambia County men charged with the misappropriation of almost $480,000 in state funds intended for use by Life Skills Center, a charter school for high school students at risk of dropping out.
John H. Wyche, 51, president and director of the not-for-profit Escambia County Community Land Trust, Inc. (ECCLT), and Orenthal J. Rembert, 39, treasurer and director of ECCLT, are charged with two first degree felonies, aggravated white collar crime and conducting unlawful financial transactions. If convicted, they could be sentenced to 60 years in prison, fined $20,000, and ordered to pay restitution of more than $480,000 to the state and other victims.
“It is appalling that state funds intended for educating students in need were being diverted to these people’s commercial interests and even their own pockets,” said CFO Sink. “I applaud the diligent work of our Office of Fiscal Integrity, State Attorney William Eddins and the Escambia County School District, who were able to crack down on this theft and make sure state money was being used for the students of Florida.”
Documents filed with the Clerk of Circuit Court show that Rembert, at the direction of Wyche, wrongfully transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars of education funds from Life Skills Center charter school account to ECCLT commercial and business accounts. Documents also show that Rembert and Wyche used the funds to pay expenses of the Land Trust, including salaries to Wyche and others and to operate ECCLT-owned Maison DeVille apartments.
The arrests resulted from a joint investigation by CFO Sink’s Office of Fiscal Integrity and the 1st Judicial Circuit's State Attorney's Office, with assistance from the School District of Escambia County’s Office of Internal Auditing. The investigation by the Office of Fiscal Integrity and the State Attorney's Office is ongoing.
CFO Sink’s Office of Fiscal Integrity is responsible for statewide investigations of allegations of fraud, waste, or abuse involving State of Florida property and money. To report fraud, waste, or abuse of State of Florida resources visit www.getleanflorida.com or contact the Office of Fiscal Integrity directly at 850-413-5514.
As part of CFO Alex Sink’s ongoing effort to promote financial literacy, the Department is participating in first-time homebuyer workshops around the state to help promote homeownership and retention. The workshops are designed to empower future homeowners in their understanding of the home-buying process and help them set manageable financial goals.
CFO Sink oversees Florida’s Financial Literacy Council, and in this capacity she has worked to raise awareness about the need for increased financial literacy among Floridians and access to information and resources to support good financial decisions. Such information is more important than ever as more citizens seek to take advantage of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provides a tax credit of up to $8,000 for purchasing their first home.
Through her regional outreach coordinators, CFO Sink helps educate consumers about the impact of homeownership in their communities. Other topics include wise use of credit cards, protection from identity theft, homeowners insurance and the first-time homebuyer workshops.
The Department’s first-time homebuyer presentation focuses on the basic coverage available in a standard homeowner insurance policy, explains the difference between the two deductibles found in standard homeowner policies (all perils deductible versus hurricane deductible), covers policy limitations and exclusions, and discusses purchasing flood insurance coverage.
For more information on CFO’s financial literacy efforts, visit www.myfloridacfo.com.
The Department of Financial Services, in partnership with Flagler County, held a Florida Housing Help Foreclosure Workshop on Wednesday, June 3, in Bunnell. A DFS outreach coordinator, Flagler County program representatives, three lender companies, three HUD-approved counseling agencies, and eight legal services attorneys participated by helping nearly 50 families with their questions and concerns about foreclosures.
Flagler County was recently cited as one of the top five counties in the state for foreclosure notices.
At the workshop, counselor/lender areas and private meeting rooms filled up, and attendees also listened to several speakers whose topics ranged from foreclosure terms to loan modification. Many of the attendees expressed their thanks for having the opportunity to speak with someone face-to-face that could listen and offer advice.
For information on upcoming workshops, please go to http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/FLHousingHelp.asp.
When preparing for hurricane season, Floridians usually stock up on batteries, water, non-perishable foods and other items to sustain them through and after a storm. One thing too often left off of the usual list is renters insurance.
Nearly 30 percent of housing units in Florida are rented, but not everyone thinks to get renters insurance. Maybe they believe their personal property is covered by their landlord’s insurance, or maybe they believe they just cannot afford it. But renters insurance is an important way to protect your personal property. It can also provide additional living expense coverage if the unit is damaged and you cannot live there until the repairs are made. Some leases require you to continue the rent payments, even if you are living somewhere else.
Think of these options when considering renters insurance:
To find out more about renters insurance, please visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
Be sure you understand what you are buying. Some standard policies do not cover damage from hurricanes. Check to see if a separate policy is needed for hurricane coverage in your area.
Find out when a Hurricane Preparedness Event will be in your area on our calendar linked here. Check back with us next week for more ideas.
In tax years 2009 and 2010, the Making Work Pay provision will provide a refundable tax credit of up to $400 for individuals and up to $800 for married taxpayers filing joint returns.
Most wage earners will benefit immediately — or already have — with a larger paycheck as a result of the changes made to the federal income tax withholding tables to implement the Making Work Pay tax credit.
The Making Work Pay tax credit, normally a maximum of $400 for working individuals and $800 for working married couples, is reduced by the amount of any Economic Recovery Payment ($250 per eligible recipient of Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Railroad Retirement or Veteran's benefits) or Special Credit for Certain Government Retirees ($250 per eligible federal or state retiree) that you receive. If you are affected by this reduction, you should review your withholding to ensure that sufficient funds have been withheld to meet your tax obligation.
For people who receive a paycheck and are subject to withholding, the credit will typically be handled by their employers through automated withholding changes in early spring. These changes may result in an increase in take-home pay. The amount of the credit will be computed on the employee's 2009 income tax return filed in 2010. Taxpayers who do not have taxes withheld by an employer during the year can also claim the credit on their 2009 tax return.
If you believe your current withholding is not appropriate for your personal situation, you can perform a quick check using the IRS withholding calculator. Adjustments can be made by filing a revised Form W-4, Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate, with your employer. Visit IRS.gov for more information.
In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC identified six critical environmental science issues for twenty-first century America. These topics impact local and national economy as well as ecology, and their solutions will significantly enhance our quality of life. The six issues are: biodiversity, climate change, biogeochemistry (meaning the biological, geological and chemical cycles regulating our ecosystems which includes water), land use, infectious diseases, and invasive species. The last issue alone (invasive species) is estimated to cost Americans more than $150 billion per year, and most control efforts are akin to the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Florida has the dubious distinction of boasting all six of the National Academy’s grand science challenges. In Florida -- with our subtropical climate, location in hurricane alley, and high density of coastal populations, we are a crossroads for these critical scientific bottlenecks. North Dakota, for example, does not suffer the immediate threats of land use, invasive species, or biodiversity loss; and subsequently, their regional governments do not have the financial burden of paying for their solutions. Predictions indicate that issues such as tropical infectious diseases will hit Florida before they threaten North Dakota. So does that mean we should move to North Dakota? With all due respect to North Dakota, the answer is “no.” But it certainly means that Floridians need to be vigilant about environmental issues, and prioritize science as a tool for long-range planning and policy solutions.
The importance of investing in research and of integrating ecological science with policy-making can not be understated for Florida in the next few decades. It is sometimes easy to overlook the direct links between quality of environment and human health. As energy-conscious Floridians, be sure to put your politicians to the litmus test. Are they relying on science as well as economics for decision-making? Are they seeking solutions that are based on understanding that a healthy environment is inextricably linked to the health of citizens? Sometimes issues that may seem expensive today, such as prioritizing clean water supplies or mass transit which minimizes automobile emissions, will have enormous savings in health costs and ultimately energy use tomorrow.