Volume 6 Number 44 October 30, 2009
For many years, Florida has been known for our beaches and weather, but our state can be about so much more. This week I met with people who are working hard every day to make our economy stronger, more innovative and more diverse.
I had an opportunity to speak with members of the Florida Farm Bureau and the Florida Home Builders Association, who in different ways will be critical to revitalizing Florida’s economy and bringing innovation and renewed opportunity to our state. I also got to meet with the Enterprise Flagler and the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce & Affiliates, whose partnership to encourage businesses to stay and grow in Flagler County could be a model for other communities.
The grand opening this week of the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, the nation’s largest solar photovoltaic plant, is a great example of the kind of new focus we need in our state. By supporting innovations like this and strengthening a diversity of industries in Florida, together we can build a solid economic foundation.
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property continued its record-setting pace this weekend by netting over $1.24 million at the annual Unclaimed Property Auction held Saturday in Ft. Lauderdale. This is the most ever garnered by Florida’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property at the annual auction. CFO Sink’s push in the week leading up to the Unclaimed Property Auction also helped return to people a staggering $7.23 million through over 20,000 accounts in just seven days.
“Our unclaimed property team has a business-like attitude to returning Floridians’ money and holding our annual auction, with record-setting results,” said CFO Sink, who guest auctioneered the start of the auction. “Our diligent and proactive approach to seeking out owners and responding to citizens has put more money back into the hands of its rightful owners— Florida citizens.”
Saturday’s Unclaimed Property Auction consisted of almost 40,000 items that were the contents of unclaimed safe deposit boxes, with the reserve prices totaling approximately $500,000. After multiple attempts to find the owners of this property, the items were auctioned off, but the rightful owners are still able to claim in cash the value that the item sold for. There is no statute of limitations, and citizens have the right to claim their property any time at no cost at www.FLTreasurehunt.org.
During Alex Sink’s tenure as CFO, the Bureau of Unclaimed Property has seen record returns, reuniting owners, heirs and businesses with more than one-third of all money returned since the beginning of the program, due largely to aggressive efforts to contact owners. CFO Sink’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property returned $173 million in unclaimed property for the 2008-2009 Fiscal Year -- the largest amount in state history. Since the program’s inception 48 years ago, the Bureau of Unclaimed Property has successfully reunited owners or relatives of deceased owners with more than $1.4 billion in unclaimed property held in Florida.
The Bureau of Unclaimed Property is still currently holding about 8.8 million accounts, mostly from dormant accounts in financial institutions, unclaimed utility deposits, insurance benefits, premium refunds, uncashed checks and trust accounts. It also holds watches, jewelry, coins, stamps and historical items from abandoned safe deposit boxes. Unclaimed property can be claimed for free at any time by the rightful owners or heirs by logging on to www.FLTreasureHunt.org or by calling the Bureau at 1-88-VALUABLE.
CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday at the State Capitol joined the more than 100 member groups of the Florida Forever Coalition in calling for renewed funding for Florida Forever. CFO Sink announced her support for the appropriation of $15 million in next year’s state budget, at a press conference with Attorney General Bill McCollum.
CFO Sink with former Governor Martinez.
“An investment in Florida Forever is an investment in our state’s environment and economy, and I am proud to support such an effective program,” said CFO Sink. “It has been shown that when we protect our state’s natural treasures, we’re really protecting our state’s economic treasure as well.”
Renewed funding for Florida Forever by the Florida Legislature would enable the issuance of as much as $300 million in Florida Forever bonds – just as the Legislature authorized unanimously in 2008 for ten years. Unfortunately, funding for Florida Forever was eliminated from the State budget this fiscal year -- the first failure to fund Florida Forever or Preservation 2000 in 20 years. Any remaining Florida Forever funding is left over from past years.
The Florida Forever Coalition is composed of more than 100 groups that support Florida Forever’s diverse environmental, wildlife, recreational, water supply, hunting, fishing, and agricultural purposes.
CFO Sink on Thursday in Orlando urged the members of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America to write more insurance policies in Florida. She thanked the national organization for bringing their annual meeting to Florida, and reminded them that Florida has the ninth largest volume of insurance premiums in the world, a larger volume than Texas, Canada, and even China. Unfortunately, many of the association’s companies either don’t write insurance in Florida, or have stopped writing here and believe they cannot make the business case to return. This has made it difficult to meet Floridians’ insurance needs affordably, and poses a major threat to Florida’s economic health.
CFO Sink told attendees that she wants to work with them to create a regulatory environment in Florida that is fair and stable for all. She reminded them that everyone wins, especially Florida’s consumers, when there is strong competition and real choice. CFO Sink highlighted her success in working with the Florida Legislature to improve the state’s insurance market, and expressed a desire to work with the association to achieve additional success in the future.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday welcomed the news that a $200 million grant will go to Energy Smart Florida for the installation of 2.6 million smart meters in homes and the installation of advanced monitoring systems in grid substations. CFO Sink commended President Obama for his commitment to new energy and his visit for the opening of Florida’s DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, the nation’s largest solar photovoltaic plant.
“Florida has been known as the sunshine state because of our beaches, but today we are taking an important step forward in becoming known as the sunshine state because of our commitment to solar and alternative energy," CFO Sink stated. "I commend Florida Power & Light for opening the nation’s largest solar photovoltaic plant here in Southwest Florida, and welcome President Obama to our state to see firsthand how we are working to diversify and modernize Florida’s economy.
“I am also extremely excited that Floridians will benefit from a $200 million grant to modernize our energy grid, one of the largest smart grid grants in the country. As Floridians, we are ready to harness our creativity and entrepreneurial energy to make our state a national leader in the development of a 21st century economy.”
In Daytona Beach on Thursday, CFO Sink spoke at the Florida Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting early in the morning. Alex reminisced about her days growing up on a family farm, which she said has given her a unique understanding of agriculture’s importance to Florida’s economy. Florida’s 44,000 farms and the businesses that support them have a $100 billion economic impact on our state.
CFO Sink applauded the entrepreneurial spirit of Florida’s farmers, and talked about the need for state government to enact policies that ensure Florida remains a land of opportunity for them. She cited the need for increased funding for agricultural research, and how Florida’s family farms could help make our state a leader in the biofuel industry. She also noted that agricultural will be an essential part of creating a strong economic foundation for Florida and thanked the farmers in attendance for helping our state get through these challenging times.
CFO Sink and Dale McClellan with the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau.
Florida CFO Alex Sink and the other members of the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday honored the 13-and-under and 15-and-under Tallahassee-Leon Babe Ruth Baseball Teams for winning the 2009 Babe Ruth World Series. The 15-and-under team presented CFO Sink with a baseball autographed by the entire team, and posed for photographs with the Cabinet.
Tallahassee-Leon Babe Ruth Baseball started in 1954. It is a non-profit organization which administers and promotes amateur baseball in Leon County, Florida, ages 13-15. The Babe Ruth League Inc. is the largest youth baseball organization in the world.
CFO Sink was the keynote speaker at the annual “Unity in the Community” Dinner hosted by Enterprise Flagler and the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce & Affiliates on Thursday evening in Palm Coast. CFO Sink praised the organizations for their successful partnership, and for providing an environment in which small businesses can thrive. She also noted her background as a business leader in Florida and the unique understanding she brings to government.
Small businesses make up over 90 percent of the companies operating in Florida, and many are struggling to keep their businesses going due to a lack of credit. CFO Sink highlighted her goal of boosting lending to Florida’s small businesses, building off federal small business lending initiatives and encouraging small business lending from community banks in our state. Sink also talked about the example that Flagler County set by retaining Palm Coast Data by coming together to encourage business partners to stay and expand in the area.
CFO Sink on Wednesday spoke to the Florida Home Builders Association (FHBA) at their meeting in St. Petersburg about the need to diversify and strengthen Florida’s housing market, an essential component of Florida’s economic recovery. CFO Sink thanked the members of the FHBA for their hard work to help Floridians achieve the American Dream of homeownership, and focused on how government can play a role in helping the private sector drive growth.
CFO Sink called upon FHBA members to rise to the challenge of meeting the changing demands of Florida homebuyers, and talked about her vision for a sold economic foundation built on industries such as new energy and health care innovation, which would bring more people to the state. CFO Sink acknowledged that the last few years have been extremely challenging for Florida’s housing industry, but she assured FHBA members that our best days are ahead of us, citing reports that Florida has seen a full 12 consecutive months of increased home sales activity.
Since January 2009, nearly 8,000 Florida homeowners have attended CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help workshops throughout Florida.
With each Florida Housing Help workshop, attendees come away with a range of information not only about their mortgage, but about resources and services in their community.
The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs has been a community partner with the Department of Financial Services to help provide veterans services and programs they may be eligible for.
Veterans Affairs offers assistance with housing as well as medical care and employment for eligible veterans and their families.
Often, veterans can receive mortgages with a lower interest rate than most conventional loans.
For information on Veterans Affairs, visit the Web site at www.floridavets.org.
Details on CFO Sink’s work to help Florida’s homeowners and a calendar of upcoming Florida Housing Help events can be found at: http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/FloridaHousingHelp/.
Upcoming Florida Housing Help events:
Saturday, November 7 from 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Florida Housing Help Englewood Neighborhood Center, 6123 La Costa Drive, Orlando
Saturday, November 14 from 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Florida Housing Help Oak Grove Church, 613 Madison St., Port St. Joe
Wednesday, November 18 from 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. Florida Housing Help Joseph P. D'Alessandro Office Complex (State Building), 2295 Victoria Ave., Fort Myers
Wednesday, November 25 from 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. War on Poverty-Florida (inside Gateway Mall) Gateway Mall, 5196-A Norwood Ave, Jacksonville
In honor and recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we are posting this advisory to address an issue that is becoming a national health insurance matter.
For several weeks now, a major topic of discussion and opinion pieces have referred to Mississippi and other states receiving allegations of insurance companies denying health insurance coverage to victims of domestic violence on the basis that domestic violence constitutes a pre-existing condition.
I am writing this advisory to inform the citizens of Florida, and particularly, anyone who is a victim of domestic violence that this practice is specifically outlawed under Florida Law. Under, Florida Statute 626.9541(g)(3) it is illegal for any insurer:
To refuse to underwrite or pay a claim based on the fact that an insured or applicant sought or should have sought medical or psychological treatment in the past for abuse, protection from abuse, or shelter from abuse, or that a claim was caused in the past by, or might occur as a result of, any future assault, battery, or sexual assault by a family or household member upon another family or household member.
Consumers should also be aware that under Florida Statute 741.28 this protection is also extended to victims of assault, battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, and child abuse victims.
My office is reviewing complaints and encouraging those who have been a victim of this unlawful practice to contact the Department of Financial Services Consumer Hotline at 1-877-693-5236, or go online to: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/needourhelp.htm.
I would also encourage anyone who feels that they are the victim of domestic violence, or are in need of assistance should contact the Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free number at 1-800-500-1119 which is operated by the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. You may also visit their website at www.fcadv.org/.
It’s that time of year when everything is changing- the weather, the clocks, holiday spirit.
In addition to setting your clock one hour back this weekend, don’t forget to change the batteries in your smoke detector. Fresh batteries and a quick test of your smoke detector can save your family’s lives.
Remember that Saturday is Halloween and there will be increased pedestrian traffic on roads and in neighborhoods.
CFO Sink cautions Florida motorists and young pedestrians to be safe during Halloween trick or treat travels. Here are a few safety tips parents and young pedestrians should follow:
The number of deaths among young pedestrians is four times higher on Halloween night than any other night of the year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that fatal collisions between motor vehicles and young pedestrians are more frequent between the hours of 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on Halloween night. In the excitement, children may not be mindful of their surroundings as motorists are rushing home in the early evening.
Motorists, pedestrians and parents should follow safety guidelines to help ensure a safe and fun Halloween.
Florida consumers are optimistic about current buying opportunities but are still concerned about the recession, a new Florida survey finds.
Established in 1979 to conduct research on consumer attitudes and buying behavior in Florida, the University of Florida Survey Research Center conducts a regular monthly survey of some 500 households in Florida. The survey measures the mood of consumers toward buying with comparative reports dating back to 2001.
The October report just released tells us that consumers are more optimistic about their current personal finances and less optimistic about the U.S. economy in both the short and long term compared to the month before.
When asked, "Is this a good time to buy major household items?" 83 percent of respondents replied in the affirmative. Consumers are likely to be even more optimistic when they see the drastically lower prices from retailers trying to boost holiday sales.
According to the report, the economic landscape in Florida remains mixed. Home prices in most Florida markets have held steady over the past few months although they are down an average of 43 percent from the peak values reached in June 2006.
“Floridians should prepare for more bad news through the first quarter of 2010,” said Chris McCarty, survey director. “If retail sales growth is as low as expected, sales tax revenues will not meet expectations. As unemployment rises the number of Floridians on Medicaid continues to rise. With decreasing revenues and increasing costs the state could see a $2.6 billion budget deficit. That will mean increased taxes and fees and certainly more cost-cutting by the Florida Legislature.”
As the holiday season approaches, it is a good time to examine household energy use and create new ways to reduce our energy footprints. The average American consumes twice as much as 50 years ago. Although Americans represent five percent of global population we use 30 percent of the world's resources. This level of consumption cannot continue without dire consequences, especially as India and China enter into a consumer-based lifestyle. Here are a few tips to educate your family about energy consumption, save money, and reduce energy footprints:
1. Become a "locavore" (translation: eat local foods and buy local products). In Florida, local farmers markets gear up in the autumn with fresh produce. Become a regular! It will improve your health as well as lower your energy footprint by purchasing produce that did not travel far to reach your dinner plate.
2. Eat fish harvested sustainably. Go online to the Environmental Defense Fund web site and download your seafood selector: www.edf.org/seafood. This list is updated regularly to reflect changes in fish populations worldwide. An estimated 75 percent of global fisheries have been fished beyond capacity.
3. Plant trees, especially natives. Trees act as a filter to cleanse the air, produce oxygen, store carbon, and serve as homes to other wildlife. Trees also shade your property, reducing the use of air conditioning and buffering your home from direct wind impacts. Investing in landscaping invariably raises the value of your real estate.
4. Reduce your heat island effect.Avoid dark colors for roofing material and driveway surfaces. On a hot, sunny summer day, the sun can heat dark colored urban surfaces, such as roofs and pavement, to temperatures 50–90°F hotter than the air, increasing energy consumption. By selecting lighter colors for outdoor surfaces, more heat will be reflected away from your living environment.
5. Conserve fresh water. An estimated one-third of all water in American homes is used to flush toilets, while billions of people around the world do not even have fresh water to drink. Most water that drains from our lawns into the local gutters leaves the fresh water cycle, becoming part of the salt water system in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Check toilets and sinks for leaks; plant natives that require less water; and reduce water consumption in your daily habits.