CFO Alex Sink's Consumer eViews NewsletterFLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
ALEX SINK'S NEWSLETTER

Volume 6 Number 25 June 19, 2009

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Dear Floridian:

As families around Florida continue to struggle in this tough economy, it is of the utmost importance that financial education and assistance programs are used. This is why on Thursday, I was pleased to speak at the Florida Prosperity Partnership’s inaugural conference in Orlando.

The Florida Prosperity Partnership, which I am the honorary chair of, brings together community and financial organizations in a statewide, collaborative effort to help low- to moderate-income Floridians. I am optimistic that through this and other financial literacy initiatives, Florida’s families can learn more ways to manage their money and get help in these hard times.

Sincerely,

Alex


Alex Sink
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida


CFO Sink highlights statewide effort to bring more money to Florida's families

Florida Prosperity Partnership Creates Coalition to Help Floridians in Tough Economic Times

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Thursday highlighted a statewide initiative to bring financial help and education to the state’s most vulnerable families at the Florida Prosperity Partnership’s inaugural conference in Orlando. The Florida Prosperity Partnership, a coalition of community and financial organizations chaired by CFO Sink, was formed last year in order to have a collaborative effort across the state dedicated to helping Floridians struggling in tough economic times.

“This morning, too many Floridians woke up worried about getting their next paycheck or making their next mortgage payment,” said CFO Sink. “Fortunately, community organizations around Florida have come together in a collaborative effort to provide financial help and tools for struggling families, and I’m honored to be a part of this statewide coalition.”

CFO Sink held a press conference with Florida Prosperity Partnership Board Members including United Way of Florida President Ted Granger, and was the keynote speaker at the Partnership’s First Annual Conference. CFO Sink noted that the organizations now joined together in the coalition have been able to get nearly $500 million in tax refunds for Florida’s working families, including $100 million in Earned Income Tax Credit refunds.

“Working individually these organizations have already provided significant help for Florida‘s families and brought dollars directly into our state‘s economy,” CFO Sink continued. “Given what they are able to accomplish for Floridians separately, it is exciting to think about the resources and solutions the coordinated effort of the Florida Prosperity Partnership will bring for families who need it most.’

The Florida Prosperity Partnership was established in the fall of 2008, evolving from a number of parallel and earlier efforts to create a statewide coalition dedicated to building financial assets for low-to-moderate income residents in the state of Florida. Policy initiatives the coalition is focused on include: predatory and payday lending, financial education standards, tax help and preparation , and asset limits on support programs. The coalition is formed by groups such as United Way of Florida, the Florida Financial Literacy Council, the Federal Reserve Bank, the IRS, and various county Health and Social Services and Children’s Services Councils.

CFO Sink has focused on helping Floridians manage their money in challenging economic times in her own Department of Financial Services through a focus on financial literacy. CFO Sink formed the Florida Financial Literacy Council, a group of businesspeople and community leaders, and has developed tools to help Florida’s families through her Consumer Services Division. For more information and money management tips, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


Latin Builders Association hears from CFO Sink in Miami

CFO Sink spoke on Friday to the Latin Builders Association, a non-profit organization of individuals and companies involved in South Florida’s vibrant construction industry. As an advocate for smart growth, CFO Sink focused her remarks on streamlining government and removing barriers to business, reinventing the Florida housing market, and strengthening Florida’s economy.

Florida has seen eight consecutive months of increased home sales activity and recent reports indicate that international realty buyers now believe that our housing market is poised for recovery. With that in mind, CFO Sink has encouraged the Florida Legislature to appropriate $30 million to fund the Economic Stimulus Plan’s first time homebuyer tax credit to give more Floridians the incentive they need to buy a home here in the Sunshine State.


Florida Justice Association addressed by CFO Sink

On Thursday, CFO Sink spoke to the Florida Justice Association, a group dedicated to strengthening and upholding Florida's civil justice system and protecting the rights of Florida's citizens & consumers. Addressing the crowd of roughly 200 legal professionals, CFO Sink spoke about many of the ways she has fought on behalf of Florida’s citizens.

CFO Sink also spoke about the ways in which the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program has helped many Florida homeowners in these tough economic times. The FASH program, which CFO Sink created with the Florida Bar, pairs volunteer lawyers across the state with homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments. So far, nearly 1,000 Florida lawyers have participated in the program, and nearly a third of CFO Sink’s legal team in the Department of Financial Services has volunteered for the program.


CFO Sink recognizes 4th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday joined with Floridians and citizens around the world in observing the 4th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, focused on fighting the abuse, neglect, and exploitation of seniors. CFO Sink has focused on protecting seniors from insurance and financial fraud during her time in office, including creating her Safeguard our Seniors Task Force.

“Making sure that are seniors are protected from abuse, including financial fraud, requires community involvement at all levels,” said CFO Sink. “I encourage every Floridian to take a moment today to consider what they can do to help prevent the abuse or poor treatment of Florida’s seniors.”

During the 2009 legislative session, CFO Sink pushed for Safeguard Our Seniors legislation after recommendations were made by her Safeguard our Seniors Task Force on how to prevent annuity fraud. The legislation would have increased the penalty for unscrupulous agents who defraud senior investors to a third degree felony and established better disclosures and protections upfront for seniors who invest in these products. The Safeguard our Seniors legislation passed unanimously in the Florida Senate but was not heard in the Florida House.

“Financial fraud has devastating consequences, especially for so many of Florida’s seniors who live on a fixed income,” said CFO Sink. “That’s why I created the Safeguard our Seniors Task Force and pushed for important legislation to better protect our senior citizens from becoming victims of financial fraud.”

CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force includes representatives from AARP Florida, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Insurance Consumer Advocate, Offices of Insurance Regulation and Financial Regulation, NAACP, Florida Bar, American Council of Life Insurers, insurance agents and securities broker-dealers. Along with the work of the Task Force, in the past year CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has opened nearly 500 administrative cases on financial fraud involving seniors, with approximately 70 percent of cases related to annuity and life insurance transactions.

Senior Floridians who believe they may have been the victim of annuity fraud should log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call 1-877-My-FL-CFO. For information on CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force and initiative, visit www.FLseniors.net. For more information on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day visit www.inpea.net.


CFO Sink suspends Haines City funeral director's license for inappropriate disposing of remains

Florida CFO Alex Sink, who oversees Florida’s Board of Funeral, Cemetery, and Consumer Services, has ordered the emergency suspension of the license of a Haines City funeral home director accused of inappropriately disposing of remains.

Claude Edward Holmes Jr., 47, was licensed as a funeral director in Florida since 1997 and serves as a funeral director and embalmer at Holmes Funeral Directors in Haines City. He was arrested late Monday on charges related to the incident.

“The Department holds its licensees to the highest standards,” said CFO Sink. “Funeral directors and embalmers are called upon to provide their services to citizens at a time when they are most vulnerable—following the death of a loved one.”

On Monday, June 15, a Polk County maintenance crew working at Oakland Cemetery in Haines City discovered a bag containing improperly disposed of human remains partially buried among gravesites. A member of the crew reported the finding to law enforcement authorities. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrived at the scene and confirmed that the bag contained human remains.

Investigation revealed that the organs were those of a Polk County man who had drowned. The county medical examiner had conducted an autopsy, in which internal organs are routinely removed and examined for evidence of foul play, then placed back in the body. The body and internal organs were released to Holmes after the autopsy.

Industry embalming standards provide that in such cases the viscera, or internal organs, be preserved and re-inserted in the body for burial. Holmes instead buried the internal organs in a shallow hole dug in a different cemetery from where the body was buried.

The emergency order immediately suspends Holmes’ license as a funeral director and embalmer. An administrative complaint seeking final disciplinary action against Holmes will be issued upon approval of the Board of Funeral, Cemetery, and Consumer Services’ probable cause panel, to be convened at the earliest possible date pursuant to Section 497.153, Florida Statutes.

The Department of Financial Services was given authority over licensees of the Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services in 2005. This is the first record of a complaint the Division has regarding Holmes. For more information about the Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services, log on to http://www.myfloridacfo.com/FuneralCemetery/fc_board_schedule.htm.


Lightning Safety Week is June 21-27

Emergency managers urge Floridians to seek safe shelter during thunderstorms

Floridians often think of hurricanes and tornadoes when they think of hazardous weather in the Sunshine State, but many would be surprised that, on average, lightning strikes are responsible for more weather-related deaths than all of our weather hazards combined. In 2008, 28 people died from lightning strikes nationally. This year, the recent lightning-related deaths recorded in Broward and Highlands counties, underscores the danger of this common threat.

The National Weather Service recognizes June 21-27 as Lightning Safety Week and officials from the Florida Division of Emergency Management urge all residents and visitors to have a plan of action for lightning conditions as they would for any other disaster.

“Lightning is a serious and deadly threat, especially in Florida where thunderstorms form quickly,” said Ruben D. Almaguer, interim director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “Floridians should pay close attention to changing weather conditions when outdoors and seek shelter when thunder is heard.”

When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors! Know the 30/30 Rule.

All thunderstorms produce lightning. Did you know that lightning can travel horizontally from thunderstorm clouds and strike as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall? Residents should know that if they hear thunder, they are in danger of being struck by lightning and should seek safe shelter immediately.

The most dangerous place to be during a thunderstorm is in an open area. Nearly half of all lightning deaths occur in open areas. Trees may offer shelter from the rain, but provide no protection from lightning. Covered picnic shelters, tents and convertibles also offer no protection from lightning. During a thunderstorm, the safest place to be is in a building, such as a home, away from the windows. Vehicles with metal roofs also provide safe shelter from lightning.

Florida emergency management officials encourage families and businesses to incorporate the “30/30 Rule” when conducting outdoor activities. This two-part rule states that people should first seek immediate shelter once the time between a lightning flash and thunder is 30 seconds or less.

The second part of this rule states that people should remain in safe shelter for 30 minutes following the final clap of thunder. Many lightning strike victims assumed that the threat had passed once a thunderstorm’s rains had ended, when in fact lightning can travel far from the core of a storm’s downpours.

Floridians should always be aware of weather conditions when participating in activities outdoors and have a plan in case thunderstorms develop. A portable NOAA all-hazards radio will provide weather forecast updates and can audibly alert you if a severe thunderstorm watch or warning is issued. To learn more go to www.lighningsafety.noaa.gov.

If a person is struck by lightning, call 911 and get medical help immediately. Lightning strikes can cause cardiac arrest, burns and nerve damage. Bystanders are in no danger by initiating medical aid and CPR; the victim will not carry an electrical charge. Some deaths can be prevented if the victim receives the proper first aid immediately.


Hurricane Checklist: Is your business covered?

We have been talking with you in this column about how to protect your home, now let’s talk about your business. Have you prepared your business for a natural disaster?

Ask yourself the following questions to see if your business can withstand a natural disaster:

If you did not answer “yes” to all of these questions, you have a benchmark to start your disaster plan. It is critical to put safeguards in place now to keep your business running after a disaster strikes.

For additional resources, please visit www.myfloridacfo.com, www.floridaSBDC.org, or www.sba.gov.

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.


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: Get Creative and Save Money on Summer Entertainment

While theme parks and trips to the movies are fun ways to spend time with the kids home from school, these expenses can definitely put a dent in the family checkbook. However, cutting back on these expenses doesn’t mean your family needs to cut back on fun!

There are a number of ways for kids to entertain themselves (and also for families to bond) without ever leaving home: from puzzles to scavenger hunts to building a fort, there are a lot of activities that can be done with what you already own.

If you do make a trip to the parks, always be sure to ask for Florida resident discounts. Also, consider less costly alternatives – something as simple as setting up a sprinkler for the kids to run through in your backyard can be both fun and functional, especially if the yard needs to be watered anyway. Also, check out community pools in the area that have waterslides and water gyms – paying the entry fee to a community pool with these features is still much less expensive than going to a water theme park.

For movies, wait until new releases go to the dollar theater: for a family of four, $4 is a much better option than the roughly $25 it can cost to see a new release, and that’s even before popcorn is purchased! Also, consider a movie mail service that may end up providing a big cost-savings each month if your family watches a lot of movies.

Finally, make sure to regularly check your local paper for events that are free or inexpensive and fun for the whole family!


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. 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.

Save Trees – Rediscover your Local Library

Summer is a great time for families to re-discover the local library. Library books are free, minimize resources since many people share one copy of a book, and are also a great resource for educating children about conservation, energy, and other important values. Why not make a family field trip to your local library, and check out some books by your favorite authors, or on subjects that will provide new ideas and inspirations?

Here are a few favorites from my family list:

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss – a great inspiration for all ages about conservation of resources, especially trees

The Moon of the Alligators by Jean Craighead George – the natural history of an alligator in the Everglades

The Chimpanzees I Love by Jane Goodall – a children’s biography about an inspirational conservationist

The Sea, the Storm and the Mangrove Tangle by Lynne Cherry – a good lesson about the importance of mangroves

The Most Beautiful Roof in the World by Kathryn Lasky – an adventure into the rain forest canopy for kids

A Naturalist in Florida by Archie Carr – a classic Florida natural history, for teenagers or adults

Cross Creek (also, The Yearling) by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings – both are “must-reads” for Floridians of all ages

River of Grass by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas – another Florida classic for every teenager, describing the ecosystem of the Everglades

Make a list for your family’s summer library reading – learn about Florida, or travel the globe via books while conserving resources!