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

Volume 6 Number 47 November 20, 2009

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Dear Floridian:

With the news that Florida’s unemployment rate has hit 11.2 percent and that Florida’s businesses will face skyrocketing unemployment compensation taxes next year, citizens are rightfully concerned about their economic futures.

That’s why this week I focused on helping our people and our state make better financial decisions. On Wednesday, I supported a new initiative Money Wise Florida that offers useful tools for Floridians trying to balance their budgets. I also called for the Legislature to make sure our state receives the federal funding we could be eligible for in order to help Florida’s workers and businesses.

Finally this week, we got some good news, when we learned that Hillsborough County Public Schools will receive a $100 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since my own children went to Hillsborough County Public Schools, this news serves as a personal reminder that it will be investments in our children that will truly help create a stronger economic future for our state.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Sink commends Hillsborough County schools for $100 million grant award

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Thursday commended Hillsborough County Public School Superintendant MaryEllen Elia after it was reported that Hillsborough County schools will receive a $100 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Investments in education are so important for Florida’s future, which is why I commend the work of MaryEllen Elia and applaud the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for awarding this $100 million grant to Hillsborough County schools,” said CFO Sink. “As a mother whose two children attended Hillsborough County public schools, I could not be more pleased that Hillsborough County students and teachers will benefit from such a substantial investment.”

CFO Sink previously chaired the Hillsborough Education Foundation Board of Directors and worked closely with Elia. The Hillsborough County Public School system was one of three school systems selected nationwide to receive this grant funding.


CFO Sink supports new statewide financial education initiative

CFO Sink on Wednesday in Tallahassee supported a broad coalition of financial experts and consumer advocates who unveiled a new financial education initiative called Money Wise Florida. This initiative is reaching out to Floridians to provide them with clear, helpful advice on various financial topics. The coalition unveiled a new website, MoneyWiseFlorida.com, where Floridians can find information about a diverse range of issues, such as saving for retirement, limiting debt, paying for a college education, and buying and selling a home.

“Florida’s families are looking for useful information and education that will allow them to strengthen their financial futures and, in turn, help the overall financial future of our state,” said CFO Sink.

Money Wise Florida partners include the Junior Achievement of West Central Florida, the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, the Florida Insurance Council, the Florida Bankers Association, the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, and the Florida Credit Union League.


Tammy Teston named by CFO Sink as new Chief of Staff

Florida CFO Alex Sink announced on Thursday that Tammy Teston will be taking over as Chief of Staff for the Department of Financial Services, effective January 2010. Teston currently serves as Deputy Chief Financial Officer for the Department. Current Chief of Staff Jim Cassady will remain in the position until January for purposes of transition.

“Tammy’s decades of business experience and expertise in standing up for Florida’s consumers is invaluable and she is well-prepared for this new role,” said CFO Sink. “Tammy wakes up everyday looking for new, innovative ways to serve the people of Florida, and I have every confidence that she will be a tremendous asset to our state as my Chief of Staff.”

“I am honored to serve the people of Florida in this new capacity,” said Tammy Teston. “I look forward to working under CFO Sink’s leadership to continue to run our Department as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, and protect citizens’ taxpayer dollars.”

As Chief of Staff, Teston will be responsible for managing the Office of the Chief Financial Officer and Department of Financial Services, which has nearly 2,000 employees and an annual budget of over $200 million. Teston currently oversees four consumer-focused Divisions within the Department as Deputy CFO, including the Divisions of Consumer Services, Agent and Agencies, Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services, and Rehabilitation and Liquidation.

Before joining the public sector, Teston served as the Senior Vice President and Market Director for Bank of America Investment Services in Sarasota. With more than twenty years as a financial professional, Teston successfully revitalized underperforming banking centers and markets. She also helped lead integration efforts during banking mergers and strengthened banking customer service operations.

Teston received a Master of Business Administration from Georgia State University and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Florida.


CFO Sink names Daniel Fasciano as new Director of Treasury, Thanks Outgoing Director Bruce Gillander

Florida CFO Alex Sink announced the appointment of Daniel Fasciano as the new director of the Division of Treasury in the Department of Financial Services, which oversees the State of Florida’s financial assets. Fasciano is a seasoned institutional fixed income director with a strong performance record at globally recognized finance and investment firms. CFO Sink also commended the decades of exceptional public service by retiring Treasury Director Bruce Gillander.

“Daniel Fasciano brings world class experience to the Division of Treasury, and will be a strong steward of our state’s financial assets on behalf of the Florida taxpayers,” said CFO Sink. “He has big shoes to fill, as he follows an outstanding public servant in outgoing director, Bruce Gillander.”

“I am honored to serve the people of Florida in such an important role overseeing their tax dollars, and I thank CFO Sink for this opportunity,” said Fasciano.

Fasciano joins the Division of Treasury after serving as the head of U.S. fixed income and senior portfolio manager at Aviva Investors/Morley Fund Management in Boston from 2002-2008. Fasciano also served the Boston Security Analysts Society as a member of the board of directors, an executive committee member, the treasurer, and vice president of education from 2007-2009. Prior to joining Aviva, Fasciano spent twelve years at Mellon Financial Corporation/The Boston Company in Boston, rising to director of taxable fixed income. Fasciano holds an MBA from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from University of New Hampshire.

Retiring Director Bruce Gillander has served the citizens of Florida with pride and distinction for over 30 years, joining the Division of Treasury in 1979. Since May 1, 2003 Gillander has been the Director of the Division of Treasury, managing the state’s financial assets. On Tuesday, CFO Sink sponsored a Florida Cabinet resolution recognizing Gillander for his many years of dedicated service to the people of Florida. Read the Cabinet resolution introduced by CFO Sink.

As Director of the Division of Treasury, Fasciano will oversee the operational monies and other financial assets of the State of Florida and three bureau offices, consisting of the Bureau of Funds Management, the Bureau of Collateral Management, and the Bureau of Deferred Compensation. The Division also assists state employees with preparing for financial security during their retirement years. CFO Sink is the constitutional officer with the fiduciary responsibility over the Division of Treasury. For more information regarding the Division of Treasury, visit www.fltreasury.org.


CFO Sink calls on Legislature to use more federal funds for unemployment compensation

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Wednesday called on the Florida Legislature to qualify Florida for more eligible federal economic recovery funds after the Department of Revenue said unemployment compensation taxes paid by the state’s businesses are set to otherwise skyrocket in 2010.

“As our state faces 11 percent unemployment, there’s no doubt that Florida’s families and small businesses have been hit hard, yet last session the Legislature willfully left millions of our taxpayer dollars sitting on the table in Washington,” said CFO Sink. “With our small businesses facing a dramatic tax increase next year, I urge the Legislature to take the steps needed to bring real relief to Florida’s businesses and reduce the impact of this tax hike.”

Department of Revenue officials said today that in 2010 the minimum unemployment compensation tax will jump from $8.40 per employee to $100.30 and the maximum will go up from $378 per employee to $459, due to the state’s high jobless rate and the need to replenish Florida’s unemployment compensation trust fund.


CFO Sink sponsors resolution to raise awareness about Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, encourages Floridians to get tested

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday sponsored a Florida Cabinet resolution to raise awareness about Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (AAT Deficiency or Alpha-1), a common hereditary disorder that can lead to life-threatening liver disease or a lung disease that makes it difficult to breath called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The resolution recognizes November as Alpha-1 Awareness Month in Florida to help fight what is a widely under-diagnosed disorder affecting an estimated 100,000 Americans.

CFO Sink encourages all Floridians to get tested for Alpha-1 and COPD, and on Wednesday visited a public screening booth in the Capitol Rotunda in Tallahassee to get tested for COPD, one of the diseases resulting from Alpha-1. The booth was setup temporarily for the day by the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital Respiratory Care Department to make it easy for Capitol employees and the public to receive a free COPD screening.

According to the American Lung Association, COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. However, it is often preventable and treatable. For more information, visit www.lungusa.org/lung-disease/copd/. Please consult your physician if you have any concerns. Read CFO Sink's Cabinet resolution.


National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month & Long Term Care Coverage/h1>

In honor of National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, we would like to share with you some information on long term care insurance. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and has a devastating effect on our citizens and their families. Currently, there are more that 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and as many as 10 million family caregivers. Alzheimer's and dementia triple healthcare costs for Americans age 65 and older. The direct and indirect costs of caring for patients afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease to Medicare, Medicaid, and businesses amounts to more than $148 billion each year.

Because of the debilitating effects of this disease many families purchase long term care insurance to lessen the financial burden of caring for a family member suffering from Alzheimer’s. Long term care insurance encompasses a wide range of medical, personal and social services.

When assessing long term care insurance coverage it is important to understand that:

Although long term care policies are not standardized, they usually fall into two categories:

1) Policies that pay a fixed dollar amount (an indemnity).

or

2) Policies that pay the actual cost of care. However, policies that pay for actual costs usually have a specified daily benefit amount that puts limits on how much can be paid per day. There may also be a limit on the amount of days these benefits will be paid.

Prior to purchasing long term care insurance there are several things you should consider:

Consumers should also be aware that long term care policies are less expensive the earlier you buy them, thus waiting until you know that you will need assistance may cost you more money. Over time, inflation can erode the real daily benefit amount without an inflation protection mechanism in the policy. Additionally, you will want to check on the financial strength and payment reputation of the company you are considering. The Division of Consumer Services is available to assist you with these questions and can be reached by calling 1-877-693-5236.

The Division of Consumer Services within the Department of Financial Services has an excellent booklet that can educate you and help guide you through the selection process if long term care insurance is your ultimate decision. This booklet is available on line at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/Guides/Health/docs/LongTermCare2009.pdf or may be mailed to you by calling 1-877-693-5236.

The Insurance Consumer Advocate is appointed by Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and is committed to finding solutions to insurance issues facing Floridians, calling attention to questionable insurance practices, promoting a viable insurance market responsive to the needs of Florida’s diverse population and assuring that rates are fair and justified.


CFO Sink sweeps jobsites to protect Florida workers, cracks down on 55 employers

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Wednesday announced that her Division of Workers’ Compensation has completed a statewide sweep of construction and non-construction industries, interviewing more than 900 employers and employees at hundreds of jobsites across Florida. The sweep cracked down on 55 employers who were violating workers’ compensation laws, issuing stop work orders to the employers for violations such as failing to provide coverage, under-reporting payroll, and misclassifying job duties.

“Florida workers deserve protection, because if injured on the job they can face devastating medical bills and serious financial hardship if their employers aren’t properly covered,” said CFO Sink. “Our statewide workers’ comp sweep is the latest enforcement effort we have taken to ensure that Floridians aren’t facing unnecessary risks because their employer has chosen to skirt the law.”

During the two-day sweep, investigators interviewed employees and employers on jobsites and were able to utilize technological resources to verify information in real time before leaving each individual site. This real-time verification allowed for appropriate action to be taken immediately when necessary. Examples of non-compliance include operating a jobsite without workers’ compensation coverage, under-reporting payroll such as paying employees in cash instead of payroll checks, and misclassifying employees in order to receive a lower workers’ compensation rate.

“This type of proactive enforcement also helps our state’s businesses who are vigilantly following the law, because it creates a level playing field and cracks down on those who are trying to cheat the system,” CFO Sink continued.

In addition to the recent workers’ comp sweep, CFO Sink’s Division of Workers’ Compensation this June launched a Non-Compliance Referral Database, which allows citizens to anonymously submit suspected workers’ comp violations online and get real-time feedback about their complaints. The Division has already received over 1,000 referrals online, resulting in 149 enforcement actions and $5.6 million in assessed penalties.

As Florida’s CFO, Sink oversees the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Workers’ Compensation, which conducted nearly 30,000 onsite investigations to determine employer compliance in the 2008-2009 fiscal year. For more information about CFO Sink’s Division of Workers’ Compensation or to submit a complaint, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call (850) 413-1609.


There is something for everyone at a Florida Housing Help workshop

For several months now, CFO Sink and the Department of Financial Services have been assisting homeowners across the state by providing access to lenders and community resources through Florida Housing Help Workshops.

If you are a homeowner struggling to make payments, or if you know a homeowner who is struggling, take an important step toward relieving some financial stress and attend a Florida Housing Help Workshop – and share the word.

These workshops are an opportunity for homeowners to sit down and meet with counselors, legal assistance, and a host of community services that can help ease the burden. In addition, homeowners and lenders can work together to find solutions and options to foreclosure and keep families in their home.

To learn more about CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help initiative, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.

Upcoming Florida Housing Help events:

Wednesday, November 25 from 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. War on Poverty-Florida (inside Gateway Mall) 5196-A Norwood Ave, Jacksonville, FL

Wednesday, December 2 at 3:00 p.m. Florida Housing Help Workshop Naples Daily News Community Room, 1100 Immokalee Road, Naples, FL 34110

Thursday, December 3 at 3:00 p.m. Florida Housing Help Workshop Joseph P. D'Alessandro Office Complex, 2295 Victoria Ave, Fort Myers, FL 33901

Friday, December 4 at 3:00 p.m. Florida Housing Help Workshop Charlotte County Family Services Center, 21450 Gibralter Drive, Port Charlotte, FL 33952

Saturday, December 5 at 10:00 a.m. Hope for Home Owners Heron Creek Middle School, 6501 West Price Blvd., North Port, FL 34286

Wednesday, December 9 at 6:00 p.m. Florida Housing Help - Free Legal Clinic War on Poverty-Florida (inside Gateway Mall) Gateway Mall, 5196-A Norwood Ave, Jacksonville, FL


Hurricane Checklist: Plan to stay connected

There are only a few weeks until the end of hurricane season, and most of us are breathing a sigh of relief because 2009 was a relatively mild hurricane season in Florida. However, our relief should not turn into complacency because we all know how quickly our luck can change and how powerful and devastating a storm can be.

Throughout hurricane season we have discussed preparing an emergency kit, planning for your pets, and planning what to do after the storm. But have you thought about having a plan for your cell phone?

Be sure you have a “Hurricane Phone." It's a good idea to have a wireless phone on hand and at least one corded, landline telephone that is not dependent on electricity in case of a power outage. Cordless telephones usually have receivers that are electrically charged, so they won't work if you lose your power.

Program all of your emergency contact numbers and e-mail addresses into your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station, hospital and your family members.

Keep your wireless phone batteries charged at all times. Have an alternative plan to recharge your battery in case of a power outage, such as charging your wireless device by using your car charger, or having extra mobile phone batteries or disposable mobile phone batteries on hand.

Keep your wireless phone dry. The biggest threat to your device during a storm is water, so keep your equipment safe from the elements by storing it in a baggie or some other type of protective covering.

Forward your home number to your wireless number in the event of an evacuation. Because call forwarding is based out of the telephone central office, you will get incoming calls from your landline phone even if your local telephone service is disrupted at your home. In the unlikely event that the central office is not operational, services such as voice mail, call forwarding, remote access call forwarding and call forwarding busy line/don't answer may be useful.

Use your wireless device to track the storm and access weather information. Many homes lose power during severe weather. If you have a wireless device that provides access to the Internet, you can watch weather reports through your mobile device.

For more hurricane and disaster tips, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.

SOURCE: The AT&T Web site and updated (April 2009) Seasonal Forecast issued by Colorado State Universityforecasters Philip Klotzback and William Gray.

Consumer Corner: Getting the best Medicare Part D plan for you

The Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) for Medicare beneficiaries to enroll or change Medicare Advantage and/or Medicare Part D prescription plans started November 15 and runs through December 31 with benefit changes taking effect January 1, 2010.

Because Medicare’s Part D prescription drug plans can change dramatically from year to year, all seniors with a Part D plan should do some comparison shopping to ensure they’re getting the best drug coverage at the lowest cost. Here are some tips.

Do-it-yourself

If you have Internet access, it is relatively easy to compare your Medicare drug plan with the many other available plans.

Start by making a list of the drugs you currently take and your dosages. Then go to Medicare’s Prescription Drug Plan Finder tool at www.medicare.gov/mpdpf and click on “Find and Compare Plans.”

From there, simply plug in your information, ZIP code, prescription drugs and dosages. You will then receive a cost comparison breakdown for each plan available in your area.

This tool also provides a five-star rating system that evaluates each plan based on past customer service records, and suggests generics or older brand name drugs that can reduce your costs.

If you find a better deal, double-check several other important pieces of information before you switch plans, including:

If you need additional help or if you don’t have internet access to compare plans, ask someone you trust to help you.

You can also call Medicare at (800) 633-4227 and to compare plans over the phone.

Other helpful resources include the Medicare Rights Center, which staffs a toll-free number with counselors ready to help at (800) 333-4114, and your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which provides one-on-one free Medicare counseling. To find a local SHIP counselor, visit www.shiptalk.org, or call (800) 677-1116.

If your annual income is less than $16,245 for an individual ($21,855 for a married couple living together), you may be eligible for extra help to pay for your Medicare drug coverage. Call the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213 to see if you qualify.

Instead of paying separately for Medicare Part B plus a Medigap supplemental policy and a stand-alone Part D drug plan, you could sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan that provides all-in-one coverage. These plans, which are sold by insurance companies, are generally available through HMOs and PPOs. To find the best deals in your area, visit www.medicare.gov/mppf or call (800) 633-4227.

Be wary of Medicare sales scams. Unsolicited door-to-door sales and telemarketing of Medicare drug plans is illegal, and all legitimate sales agents must be licensed in Florida.

Remember to check the license status of the agent and company with the Florida Department of Financial Services and Verify Before You Buy, by visiting www.MyFloridaCFO.com or calling (850) 413-3089 or 1-877-MY-FL-CFO.


My Family CFO: Make extra money to save money

It is tough to get ahead on your savings these days, but there are many ways to earn extra income if you’re willing to be creative. Consider taking online surveys, participating in clinical drug studies, blogging, babysitting, pet sitting, hanging holiday lights and decorations for a neighbor, collecting driftwood, selling your hair to a wigmaker, donating plasma, detecting metal on the beach, collecting bottles and cans for deposits, or a host of other odd jobs that you never might have thought of before. Many of these jobs would be fun for your whole family to work on together. However, always make sure you know what you are getting into before you start.

Using your talents as an artist also may be useful for extra income if there is a market for your craft. And yard sales are always a popular way to make a little extra cash, but are not a very reliable source of income unless you have a lot of desirable items to sell. Ultimately, a part-time job might contribute the most to your savings, especially if you have extra hours to work as a server in a restaurant or a sales associate in a retail store.

Once you find something you like, use the extra income to pay down debt, augment your rainy day fund or increase your savings. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you and your family members enjoy it. Using your leisure time productively can produce a positive state of mind and contribute to your family's happy times together.


Saving Energy, Saving Money: Greening the holidays

Create a family list of green holiday activities.

Create special days when no one in your family drives. Saving gas and limiting carbon emissions will add up when many of your family members participate in this plan.

Purchase a living tree. Plant it outside after indoor use for the holidays. You should avoid purchasing a plastic tree because it is manufactured with fossil fuels. Purchasing a cut tree would remove one of nature’s best carbon storage machines.

Buy gifts with a "green" message. Giving charitable gifts will surprise and delight your friends and family. Plant a tree in someone's name to beautify an urban setting. Purchase a farm share to receive fresh vegetables from a community farm. Give gift invitations for an organic meal that you will prepare. Feed an elephant for a day. Give a free entrance pass for one year to America's national parks and other public lands. Give a gift card for a charity of choice.

Reuse, recycle and re-gift. One person's refuse can be another's treasure. Handmade gifts - by you or others - are special and unique. Supporting local artisans can give back to your community in an eco-friendly manner.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink's Consumer eViews 1-877-MY-FL-CFO