Volume 6 Number 33 August 14, 2009
This week I went to Ocala, one of the many proud communities that I think of as Florida’s “Heartland”, for an emergency meeting about the impact of 1,000 Floridians losing their jobs after a local mortgage-lending company abruptly closed its doors. But as we sat there, we heard not just about the new 1,000 Floridians recently out of a job, but also the 17,000 people already unemployed in the region.
It reminded me that although we have not yet faced a hurricane this season, Floridians like those 1,000 people in Ocala are facing a Category 5 economic hurricane, and the effects are just as devastating and possibly even longer lasting. We are facing economic challenges unlike any we have seen in more than a generation.
The meeting in Ocala also underscored our need to address both short and long-term goals to ensure a successful future for Florida. I will continue to look for ways to cut back on government spending and save taxpayers dollars to help address our current budget shortfalls. And I will work to ensure we are investing in an educated workforce – starting with our public schools -- and assisting our small businesses and entrepreneurs. The only way to recover from the economic storm we are now weathering is by reinventing our state’s economy.
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink attended an emergency meeting yesterday with the Ocala Economic Development Council, Congressman Cliff Stearns, Ocala Mayor Randy Ewers, and other local elected officials and business leaders to discuss the economic impact of losing more than 1,000 high-paying jobs after the closure of lending operations by Ocala-based Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp., the 12th largest mortgage lender in the nation.
During the meeting, CFO Sink committed her Department of Financial Services (DFS) to assisting the Council and community with addressing the needs of Ocala residents. This included dedicating resources from her Consumer Services Division to assist with financial and insurance questions and assigning volunteer lawyers from the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program to help area homeowners avoid foreclosure. CFO Sink also will be in contact with “stimulus czar” Don Winstead to evaluate if any stimulus funds could be expedited to projects in the Ocala area.
“Although we have not yet faced a hurricane this season, Floridians like these 1,000 residents in Ocala are facing a Category 5 economic hurricane and the effects are just as devastating and even longer lasting. Losing 1,000 high-paying jobs in Ocala is a devastating blow to a region that is already facing record-high unemployment,” said CFO Sink. “Ocala’s economic recovery is vital to rebuilding our state’s economic foundation and I have pledged to do everything I can to bring attention and help to the region.”
In June, the Agency for Workforce Innovation reported 17,499, or 12.6% of Marion County residents are unemployed. Those numbers are expected to approach 14% by October, following the layoffs.
Initiatives by CFO Sink’s Department will compliment efforts by the Ocala Economic Development Council to keep more high-paying jobs in the Ocala area, help stem foreclosures, and provide information to citizens about reducing their household costs. CFO Sink, who chaired the Healthy Kids Board during her first 20 months in office, will also work to ensure that residents have opportunities to enroll their children in Florida KidCare at upcoming job and resource fairs.
Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp., the nation’s 12th-largest mortgage lender, closed its lending operations after being stripped of its license to issue any new mortgage loans in the state by Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) and being barred from originating new FHA-insured mortgages by the Federal Housing Administration.
Florida CFO Alex Sink today announced the Daniel Y. Sumner Fellowship in Law and Public Policy at a luncheon honoring Daniel Y. Sumner, a 1975 graduate of the University of Florida College of Law and an attorney with the Department of Financial Services. The fellowship will go to a recent graduate from the University of Florida Levin College of Law to participate in CFO Sink’s legal and public policy work.
“I can think of no better way to honor Dan Sumner’s dedication to public service and his work for the people of Florida than to help cultivate more public servants just like him,” said CFO Sink. “I am excited to work with the University of Florida and each new Sumner fellow to introduce government service to our future generation of leaders.”
“We are very excited about the development of the Sumner Fellowship,” said Robert Jerry, Dean of the University of Florida Levin College of Law. “This innovative program will make it possible for exceptional graduates to serve Florida by helping develop insurance and financial regulatory policy. The program will also help prepare the next generation of public servants for leadership positions in our state. We are delighted to partner with the CFO on this program.”
Sumner, a Jacksonville, Florida, native, currently serves as Deputy Chief of Staff for CFO Sink and the Florida Department of Financial Services. Prior to serving as Deputy Chief of Staff, Sumner served as General Counsel for the Department. Sumner’s service in the Department of Insurance prior to Cabinet reorganization included serving as Executive Senior Counsel, General Counsel, Director of Legal Services, Director of Insurance Rating and Deputy State Treasurer.
“My career in public service has exceeded my expectations in terms of both its challenges and rewards,” said Sumner. “I am honored by this fellowship and proud that it will give recent graduates an opportunity to serve.”
The first Daniel Y. Sumner fellow is Lindsay Roshkind of West Palm Beach. Roshkind graduated Summa Cum Laude from The George Washington University and Magna Cum Laude from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2008. She also received her LLM in Taxation from the University of Florida in 2009. Roshkind was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2008 and recently took the Georgia Bar.
“This Fellowship will give me the opportunity to participate in both the legal and public policy work of CFO Sink’s office,” said Roshkind. “I am honored to have the chance to participate in public service and to learn from the dedicated staff of the Department of Financial Services.”
Sumner also served as Interim Executive Director of the Florida Property and Casualty Joint Underwriting Association from its activation in September 2006 until it was merged into Citizens Property Insurance Corporation in June 2007. He has been involved in the drafting and legal defense of key insurance reforms in the State of Florida, including the Tort Reform Act of 1986, Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 1990, 1995 Property Insurance Reforms and creation of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation in 2002.
The Financial Services Commission, comprising the governor and Cabinet members, today appointed J. Thomas Cardwell as the new Commissioner of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR). Tom Cardwell has been a leading voice in preserving the integrity of the financial services industry in Florida for nearly three decades. His appointment was approved unanimously at today’s Cabinet meeting.
“I have every expectation that Tom Cardwell will bring a strong enforcement mentality and responsible approach to the Office of Financial Regulation,” said CFO Sink. “His experience will help him lead OFR with the integrity and dedication Floridians deserve in these challenging economic times.”
Tom Cardwell has served as General Counsel of the Florida Bankers Association for 25 years, and, in this capacity, has participated in crafting many of the laws regulating all types of financial institutions in Florida. In March of 2009, the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court appointed Mr. Cardwell to its Mortgage Foreclosure Task Force, which is engaged in making recommendations about court dealings with the mortgage foreclosure crisis in Florida.
Cardwell served as the Chair of the Financial Institutions practice at Akerman Senterfitt, one of the largest law firms in Florida, and has been a member of the American Bar Association Banking Law Committee since 1983. He has represented financial institutions in state and federal courts and before the Supreme Court of the United States as well as before administrative agencies in Florida. Cardwell has also represented individuals and organizations in securities litigation and in regulatory matters before state and federal courts and regulatory agencies. Cardwell graduated from Duke University and the University of Florida College of Law with honors.
Legislation from 2002 placed the regulation of banking, securities and insurance under two appointed officials who are selected by the Financial Services Commission. The commission, which comprises the Governor and Cabinet, appoints the Commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation and the Commissioner of the Office of Insurance Regulation. Both offices are administratively housed in the Department of Financial Services but report directly to the Governor and Cabinet.
Florida CFO Alex Sink today announced that her new workers' comp whistle-blower web site which allows citizens to submit referrals of alleged violations of workers' compensation rules has already produced hundreds of new complaints and over $500,000 in penalties since its launch less than two months ago.
The electronic non-compliance referral web site makes it easier for any citizen to submit a complaint online about suspected non-compliance with workers' compensation rules and provides real-time feedback to complainants. The site also allows the Division of Workers' Compensation to input referrals and initiate investigations more rapidly. Since the new workers' comp whistle-blower site was launched in June, CFO Sink’s Division of Workers' Compensation has received 328 referrals online. As a result of those referrals, 36 Stop-Work Orders were issued, resulting in $526,000 dollars in assessed penalties.
“Florida workers who are injured on the job can face devastating medical bills and serious financial hardship if their employers aren’t properly covered, which is why we want to make it as easy as possible for whistle-blowers to report possible violations of workers' comp rules,” said CFO Sink. “This new workers' comp whistle-blower web site makes it easier for our citizens to provide anonymous referrals for alleged violations and also allows for more expedient fraud investigations. And with half a million dollars already assessed in penalties from these online referrals, we can see this new system is working.”
“I am very proud of my staff within the Bureau of Compliance for creating the database in-house with assistance from IT staff,” said Division of Workers’ Compensation Director Tanner Holloman. “They took a proactive stance to help citizens find an easier way to report and track workers’ compensation referrals.”
Referrals can be submitted electronically at the Non-Compliance Referral Database on the Division of Workers' Compensation web site at http://www.fldfs.com/wc/index.htm. The new database provides complainants with the ability to electronically submit referrals and receive feedback and updates without revealing his or her identity.
The Division of Workers’ Compensation conducted nearly 30,000 onsite investigations of worksites to determine employer compliance for the 2008-2009 fiscal year. Examples of non-compliant workers’ compensation coverage include working without workers’ compensation, under-reporting payroll such as paying employees in cash instead of from checks from payroll, and misclassifying employees in order to receive a lower workers’ compensation rate.
For more information about CFO Sink’s Division of Workers Compensation or to submit a complaint, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
Florida CFO Alex Sink announced on Friday that her Department of Financial Services’ Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services has recorded 30 investigations completed and presented for disciplinary action to the probable cause panel of their Board for the first half of this year, compared to just four in the same time period in 2008. This increase reflects CFO Sink’s commitment to strong enforcement and protection for Floridians.
The improvements began when CFO Sink appointed two experienced Department attorneys to lead the Division of Funeral and Cemetery and improve litigation management processes. Also, CFO Sink’s Division of Legal Services has provided training to investigators, leading to more effective investigations and a sharp increase in completed investigations. As a result, the probable cause panel of the Board of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services is meeting more regularly to address the six-fold increase in investigations being presented.
“We are dedicated to ensuring consumers receive high-quality service and are protected from those licensees who are not committed to these high standards,” CFO Sink said.
For instance, at its most recent meeting, the Board of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services voted to revoke the license of Morning Glory Funeral Chapel of Tampa after finding that the funeral establishment owner Harold Jones acted as a funeral director without a license and handled remains without required training. The Board took the action after the three-member probable cause panel upheld the findings of the division’s investigation.
The Board’s probable cause panel is charged with reviewing findings from Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services’ investigations. If the panel finds that probable cause exists to believe a violation occurred, it directs the department to file a formal complaint against the licensee. The licensee can then elect a formal hearing at the Division of Administrative Hearings or an informal hearing before the board. The board’s meeting schedule is posted at: www.MyFloridaCFO.com/FuneralCemetery/.
For more information about the Division of Funeral and Cemetery, the probable cause panel or consumers wishing to file a complaint about a funeral home or cemetery should visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call the CFO’s Consumer Helpline at 1-877-My-FL-CFO (877-693-5236) or 1-850-413-3089.
Florida CFO Alex Sink today launched a Spanish language version of her ‘Florida Housing Help’ web site, which offers extensive resources for Florida homeowners, including help to prevent foreclosure and mortgage fraud and details about Housing Help workshops across Florida. The site also offers Floridians information on how to access CFO Sink’s volunteer lawyer program, Florida Attorneys Saving Homes. The web site can be found at http://fldfs.convertlanguage.com/fldfs/enes/24/_www_MyFloridaCFO_com/FloridaHousingHelp/.
“Our state has been especially affected by the housing crisis, which is why I continue to work hard to find avenues to provide real, tangible help to all Floridians facing the threat of foreclosure,” said CFO Sink.
CFO Sink launched the Florida Housing Help Initiative to assist homeowners facing foreclosure. The initiative partners with community organizations and elected officials to hold foreclosure workshops around the state, and over 5,000 families have already attended these events. For more information on CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help Initiative visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com. The Florida Housing Help web site is updated on an ongoing basis as additional information and sources of help become available. For further assistance in English or Spanish, Floridians are encouraged to contact CFO Sink’s Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236) or (850)413-3089.
In an effort to inform Florida’s insurance consumers about additional assessments that could be added to their insurance premiums in the event of a major hurricane, Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw has introduced a new online insurance assessment calculator, found at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/ICA.
“Many Floridians are not aware that they could see additional costs tacked on to their insurance premiums in the event of a major hurricane,” said Shaw. “We are hoping that this online assessment calculator can be used as a resource to help Florida’s consumers make better, more informed decisions about their insurance choices.”
Floridians can input their current policy information into the assessment calculator and receive an estimation of the assessments that could be charged to their policies in the event of a category 3, 4 and 5 storm hitting either the Miami or Tampa areas.
The assessment calculator was developed by an actuary in the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate, and has been reviewed and endorsed by several external actuaries. The calculator uses the terms 25-year storm, 100-year storm, and 250-year storm as a reference to storm categories; with a 25-year storm being equivalent to a category 3 hurricane, a 100-year storm being a equivalent to a category 4 hurricane, and a 250-year storm being equivalent to a category 5 hurricane.
Users of the assessment calculator will notice that they will have to choose whether or not they are Citizens Property Insurance Corporation customers. Customers who are Citizens policyholders are encouraged to compare the significant difference in the estimation output of both Citizens and non-Citizens policyholders. The calculator gives an estimation based on homeowners, business and automobile premiums, as all of these policy types are subject to the added assessments in the event of a major storm.
The assessment calculator can be found on the Insurance Consumer Advocate’s website and here: https://appst.fldfs.com/AssessmentCalculator/Consumers/AssessmentCalculator.aspx.
Division of Insurance Fraud Lieutenant Brian McCoy and Detective Dwight Murphy along with DFS Outreach Coordinator Tiffany Reeves represented CFO Alex Sink at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office safety fair. Representatives from various agencies and businesses were on-hand to provide information on community resources available to consumers. Hundreds of consumers passed through the safety fair, which was held at the Avenues Mall.
The Insurance Fraud Division talked with individuals about how the high cost of insurance fraud adds to their insurance premiums through Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Fraud and Workers’ Compensation Fraud. They also highlighted the new workers’ compensation whistle-blower web site where citizens can report alleged violations.
Consumers were also able to take the Great Florida Treasure Hunt by searching the department’s online unclaimed property database, and seven people found unclaimed property including cash and property such as utility deposits, last paychecks, matured life insurance policies, and securities. One consumer said she knew she had unclaimed property, but Reeves suggested she also check using just her last name and they ended up finding three life insurance policies in the name of the woman’s deceased father.
Unclaimed property may always be claimed free of charge, and Floridians are encouraged to regularly search the Unclaimed Property web site at www.FLTreasureHunt.org.
Finally, hurricane preparedness and financial tips were provided to attendees to help consumers set manageable financial goals to financial security.
For more information on the CFO’s Financial Literacy initiative and workers’ compensation whistleblower program,, visit www.myfloridacfo.com or call our Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or 1- 877- MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).
More than 200 families attended CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help workshop held Saturday, August 8, in Deltona. The workshop was held by the Department of Financial Services and the Financial Action Team (FACT) in partnership with the City of Deltona and was very successful – 20 families completed loan modifications at the event.
Attendees met with lenders, HUD-certified housing counselors, pro-bono legal assistance and other financial experts. One of the successful loan modifications resulted in a family’s monthly mortgage payment being reduced by $1,000. Many of the homeowners said they were elated to receive the one-on-one foreclosure assistance they were desperately looking for. “We are finally getting the help we need,” stated one homeowner. “Before today, all we could get was ‘lip service’ over the phone.”
Upcoming Florida Housing Help events include a new monthly workshop in Ft. Myers to further assist Floridian’s facing foreclosure. To see our calendar of events or for more information, please visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com/FloridaHousingHelp/.
Next week, Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Department of Financial Services will be teaming up with the City of St. Petersburg, local HUD certified counseling agencies, lenders and others to hold a Florida Housing Help Workshop on Saturday, August 22, at the Enoch Davis Community Center from 9-2 p.m.
This workshop will include presentations throughout the day such as: how and why homeowners should talk with their lenders, the foreclosure process, frauds and scams, short sales, affordable housing alternatives, information from the internal revenue service, and information on a new program called Bank on St. Petersburg.
In addition, homeowners can meet with HUD counselors and lenders who will educate them on the foreclosure assistance process and evaluate their situation to negotiate possible outcomes on their behalf.
To assist the counselors and lenders who are there to help, attendees need to bring copies of certain documents. Please visit http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/FloridaHousingHelp/Legal.htm for a list of needed documentation.
For more information, please visit the Department of Financial Services’ web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call our Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll free at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).
President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), commonly known as the Stimulus Plan, into law on February 17, 2009. Portions of ARRA provide for premium reductions and additional election opportunities for health benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, commonly called COBRA.
The United States Department of Labor (USDOL) is the federal agency responsible for COBRA and the benefits related to the election of COBRA under ARRA. Their web site is www.dol.gov. For updated information, please refer to this site and click on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Information.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) is the federal agency responsible for the state continuation (mini-COBRA) benefits under ARRA. For updated information on state continuation, please go to the following web site: www.cms.hhs.gov/COBRAContinuationofCov and then click on Regulations and Guidance and then on More and then on COBRA Continuation of Coverage under Health Insurance Reform. Article continues.
This week marks the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Charley and the destruction it left in Charlotte County. Since its landfall on August 13, 2004, Charlotte County has rebuilt not only buildings, homes, and businesses; they have also rebuilt their lives.
In its wake, Charley destroyed 11,000 homes. Within 24 hours of landfall, the Florida Department of Financial Services Storm Line was fully operational with insurance specialists answering consumer questions. An Insurance Village was set up and fully operational on the ground in Port Charlotte by Monday, August 16. This was the first of its kind and, with the addition of insurance companies, created a one-stop shop for consumers.
The Insurance Village allowed DFS staff to assist consumers in contacting their insurance companies, receiving money for additional living expenses, scheduling adjusters, explaining policies, etc. Approximately 50 insurance companies were there to help policyholders. Within the weeks following the storm, over 125 DFS staff members were on the ground in the impacted area assisting consumers in the Insurance Village and in neighborhood meetings, providing resources and materials.
Within weeks of Charley’s destruction, Floridians saw the devastation of three more storms: Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. Through those storms, DFS had more than 300,000 consumer contacts and received 281,679 calls through the Consumer Helpline and Storm Line. DFS had staff in 48 Disaster Recovery Centers throughout 24 counties in Florida.
With each hurricane season, the hope is that Florida will not have to repeat what was endured in 2004. The anniversary of Hurricane Charley is celebrated with new structures and the rebuilding and strengthening of the communities in Charlotte County.
History has taught us that Floridians are strong, and with the lessons learned in 2004, DFS is ready and prepared to assist our consumers again should the time arise.
For anyone saving for retirement, IRAs, employer-sponsored savings plans, and annuities are often the vehicles of choice, since all offer tax-deferred compounding.
Most taxpayers view tax-deferred savings plans as desirable vehicles for reducing current income taxes and accumulating greater funds for retirement. Over the years, legislation has provided taxpayers with substantial tax incentives to save for their particular retirement needs, thereby boosting personal savings and economic growth in general.
All such tax laws share the same general principles: (1) annual contributions (savings) under tax-deferred plans are not subject to current taxation, (2) contributions by employers are currently deductible, (3) investment income is not subject to annual income taxes and (4) both contributions and investment income are taxed only when received by the individual on retirement in excess of the individual's tax basis. However, Congress has also passed a variety of penalty taxes constraining these plans. You can avoid these penalties by being aware of them before you invest. Consult your investment pros for advice.
For state employees, the State of Florida 457 Deferred Compensation Plan can help reduce current income taxes with tax-deferred contributions. The plan has choices from a wide range of respected fund managers. Catch up on the details of the State of Florida 457 Deferred Compensation Plan to learn what may have changed, ask questions, and investigate your options at this web site: https://www.myfloridadeferredcomp.com/SOFweb/index.htm.
Disclaimer: Consumer eViews financial information is provided for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional financial advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified professional before taking any course of action that may affect your financial or legal rights.
Even though school is getting ready to start and fall seems only around the corner, the summer heat will stay with us for a while. Now, while the kids are still out of school, is the perfect time to spend a morning or afternoon getting onto a river or sping to keep cool.
Two watersports that leave no carbon footprint and are low impacts activities include canoeing and kayaking. If you don’t own a kayak or canoe, that’s no problem because many outfitters are located on rivers and springs. You can find them in your phone book.
Aside from the fact that canoeing and kayaking, as low impact sports, reduce the risk of wear and tear on your joints, these sports will increase your muscle strength, especially in your arms, shoulders, back and chest. People love kayaking and canoeing as the activities can be peaceful and meditative, and provide excellent opportunities to view wildlife up close. Because canoeing and kayaking are so quiet, it is easy to paddle within feet of birds such as herons, egrets, and ibis as well as turtles and manatees.
The whole family will appreciate the wonders that Florida waters offer. Before you head out the door however, don’t forget to pack appropriately, which includes taking sunblock and sufficient water to avoid dehydration. So go and enjoy Florida’s natural wonders while at the same time doing good things for yourself and the planet.