Volume 6 Number 48 November 27, 2009
The Thanksgiving Holiday gives all of us the opportunity to express appreciation for the special people in our lives and reflect on the many blessings around us. I’m especially thankful for my wonderful family, my husband Bill and our children Bert and Lexi, and the productive and full life I have with them.
I’m also thankful for the opportunity you’ve given me to serve as Florida’s CFO. Our Department works very hard every day to serve the people of Florida, and I look forward to continuing our efforts. You can read about a few of our recent accomplishments, including our “Going Green, Saving Green” paperless initiative, in this week’s eViews.
Enjoy this holiday time with your family and friends, and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday announced that her Department of Financial Services has realized over $1 million in savings for Florida’s taxpayers by launching numerous paperless efforts. Overall, CFO Sink's Department has cut print volume in half since 2007. CFO Sink highlighted some of the “Going Green, Saving Green” efforts and unveiled a new legislative proposal to require electronic payments, in an attempt to cut costs and modernize government actions.
“We are always looking for more efficient and cost-effective ways to do the business of the state and by taking this modern, electronic approach we are able to save over one million dollars for the taxpayers and do our part to help the environment,” said CFO Sink. “We live in the 21st century, and by taking steps to go paperless we have modernized many of our services, making them more accessible and cutting costs.”
At her press conference, CFO Sink highlighted a few initiatives that exemplify the Department's “Going Green, Saving Green” efforts. Some examples include posting annual reports and training manuals online, communicating with agents licensed by the Department by email only, and eliminating the printing of receipts for electronic reimbursements.
CFO Sink also announced that in the next legislative session she will push for changes to allow her Department to require electronic funds transfer (EFT) payments, instead of paper warrants to and from certain companies that do business with the state. It costs the state $4.18 per payment for a paper warrant and only $0.77 to send a payment electronically.
“Given the dramatic cost difference, electronic payment requirements just make sense -- they are one more way to modernize the business of the state and save money,” CFO Sink continued. “My number one priority here in Tallahassee is to make sure taxpayer dollars are being used wisely, while improving service to the citizens of Florida.”
For the past two years, CFO Sink has been an outspoken watchdog on behalf of Florida’s taxpayers. Because of cost saving and efficiency measures encouraged by CFO Sink, the Department of Financial Services is projected to save over $5 million in 2009 alone.
Since coming into office, CFO Sink has undertaken measures such as consolidating the Department’s 11 consumer call centers into 2 call centers, renegotiating existing contracts, and cutting Department wireless costs by 37 percent. At www.GetLeanFlorida.com, citizens can offer tips on how to cut government waste and inefficiencies. Get Lean has already received approximately 1,300 citizen suggestions since March 2009 about how state government can rein in wasteful spending and has passed these tips along to the agencies for action. For more information visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate, Sean Shaw, hosted the final meeting of the Claims Dispute Resolution Roundtable on Wednesday, November 18, 2009.
Dating as far back as the 2004/2005 hurricane seasons, many Florida homeowners have unsettled claims in various stages of the claims process from hurricanes and the destructive forces of fire, wind or water. Whatever the cause, the claims process can be stressful for families as they try to maintain their daily lives and deal with the repair process.
The Insurance Consumer Advocate brought members of the insurance industry and contractors together to identify factors that can lead to claim disputes and to develop recommendations to address each issue. The goal of the roundtable was to foster communication between insurers and contractors in an effort to bring uniformity to the claims process to enable Florida homeowners to better mitigate damage to their property and quickly move back into their homes following a loss. A uniform process would also allow contractors to begin repairs without delays and would reduce the overall costs of the claims process and might lead to a decrease in insurance premiums.
In the July meeting, participants concluded that contractors and insurance adjusters could improve the process of documenting damage and determined that mortgage companies could aid consumers through improvements in the way property insurance proceeds are disbursed. In response, experts from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the Department of Financial Services, the Department of Community Affairs, Florida Building Commission, the Mortgage Bankers Association of Florida, and the Insurance Appraisal and Umpire Association, Inc. gave presentations to the roundtable.
Potential solutions suggested include continuing education for contractors, licensing of umpires and creating a required continuing education course for adjusters. Members of the appraisal community, legal professionals, and the construction community offered public comments.
The Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate will now review the roundtable’s recommendations and work with the regulatory agencies and professional associations to facilitate the recommendations. Upon conclusion, a final report will be published detailing the roundtable’s achievements.
The agenda and presentations from the roundtable are available on the Florida Insurance Consumer Advocates' web site at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/ICA/.
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.
Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink today called on families across Florida to include fire safety in their recipes this holiday, as Thanksgiving is the leading day for home cooking fires nationwide. In Florida, cooking fires caused 32 percent of all residential fires in 2008 and inflicted an estimated $40 million dollars in damages.
“Given that cooking is the number one known cause of house fires in our state, I encourage all Floridians to be safe this Thanksgiving,” said CFO Sink. “Floridians can follow a few simple tips to ensure that their Thanksgiving is about celebrating with friends and family, not calling their local fire department.”
Nationwide, firefighters responded to roughly 1,300 home fires involving cooking equipment on Thanksgiving in 2007, roughly three times the daily average of cooking fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Florida State Fire Marshal Sink recommends the following cooking safety tips:
Cook with Caution
If you have a cooking fire….
Florida CFO Alex Sink encourages Florida seniors to be aware of potentially unscrupulous sales practices during the current open enrollment period for the Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D Prescription Drug programs, which began November 15 and continues through December 31, 2009. Since the 2008 annual enrollment period, CFO Sink’s Division of Agent and Agency Services opened 121 investigations relating to a variety of Medicare-related consumer allegations against agents such as misrepresentation, deceptive practices, and unlawful solicitation.
CFO Sink encourages Florida seniors to review the following tips before switching plans during the open enrollment period known as the Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP):
If consumers need additional help or do not have internet access to compare Medicare plans, call Medicare at 1-800-633-4227 for assistance. For more information about Medicare annual enrollment, contact CFO Sink’s Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236), or visit CFO Sink’s website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
On Monday, the City of Seminole Fire Rescue Department (SFRD) called Florida State Fire Marshal Alex Sink's bomb squad to assist with the retrieval and disposal of five containers of ether that had crystallized at Smith & Nephew, a wound management product development company located in Pinellas County.
The containers of crystallized ether were discovered in a refrigerator and immediately reported to the SFRD. Crystallized ether is considered to be highly explosive, comparable to one pound of C4, a plastic explosive.
State Fire Marshal Sink's bomb squad used the remote controlled robot to remove the containers from the refrigerator. The crystallized ether was then transported in a bomb disposal container to the Pinellas County Waste Management site and detonated safely.
The bomb squad worked in collaboration with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and the City of Seminole Fire Rescue Department.
CFO Alex Sink’s Florida Housing Help initiative will be making a four-county tour beginning Wednesday, December 2, and continuing through Saturday, December 5, 2009. The counties to be visited are Lee, Collier, Sarasota and Charlotte counties.
Lenders participating in the tour include Chase, Washington Mutual, EMC, SunTrust, Fifth Third Bank, Bank of America, and more.
Wednesday, December 2 in Collier County, Naples Daily News Community Room, 1100 Immokalee Road, Naples, FL 34110, from 2:00 - 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, December 3 in Lee County, Joseph P. D'Alessandro Office Complex, 2295 Victoria Ave, Fort Myers, FL 33901, from 2:00 - 7:00 p.m.
Friday, December 4 in Charlotte County, Charlotte County Family Services Center, 21450 Gibralter Drive, Port Charlotte, FL 33952, from 2:00 - 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, December 5 in Sarasota County, Heron Creek Middle School, 6501 West Price Blvd., North Port, FL 34286, from 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
For more information on Florida Housing Help or to view a calendar of events near you, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
The Florida Police Accreditation Coalition (FLA-PAC), a coalition of statewide accreditation professionals in the criminal justice field, and the largest such group in the nation, recently announced the inaugural awardees of its Certified Accreditation Professional (CAP) program. Captain Robert Brongel of the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, is the first state officer to receive this prestigious, first-time award
FLA-PAC recently developed the CAP program as a way to recognize individuals who have reached one of the highest levels of achievement in their field. Applicants for the CAP designation had to undergo a rigorous application process that required them to show proof that they were involved in accreditation for a minimum of three years, received continuing education to remain current in the field, and took a leadership role in the accreditation process at a statewide level..
CFO Sink congratulates Captain Brongel for being the first state officer to be designated as a CAP.
Hurricanes are not the only disasters that Floridians need to be prepared for each year. Wildfires, floods, tornadoes and sinkholes are other reasons why it pays to make sure your financial interests are up-to-date and your family survival items are not exhausted.
Since it's the end of hurricane season, it's time to check the items in you Family Survival Kit to make sure they are still viable in the event of a natural disaster. Items to check are:
The life expectancy of these items should be checked and rotated to keep them fresh and usable.
Also, don’t forget the pet items like vaccination records, registration papers, and medications for flea and heartworm prevention that need to be updated. Be sure the name and contact information for your pets’ veterinarian is correct along with any current treatment information.
For more information on disaster planning, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/Guides/disaster/index.htm.
As seniors continue to live longer, more productive lives, they are choosing to take more control of their financial futures. Insurance products such as annuities and long-term care insurance can sometimes provide seniors the investment opportunities and care they need in their later years.
While these products can help you gain financial freedom and fund long-term care needs, there are some important steps to take to protect your financial interests. The Department of Financial Services (DFS) encourages seniors to “Verify Before You Buy” prior to entering into any insurance contract with a company or agent.
By contacting the CFO Sink’s Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at (800) 342-2762, DFS can verify if a company or agent is licensed to conduct business in Florida.
Consumers can also visit CFO Sink’s website www.MyFloridaCFO.com to view consumer guides on Life Insurance and Annuities as well as Long-Term Care Insurance. There are numerous guides on a variety of topics, in addition to a searchable Insurance Library to help answer all of your insurance-related questions.
Additional resources can be found on CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors website located at www.flseniors.net, which has information to help seniors educate themselves about fraud and make informed financial decisions.
Shoppers will be able to find some great gift deals this holiday season, which traditionally starts the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday.
Check out what the sale ads have to say. Scour newspaper and mail circulars and plan to shop early if you want to find the best deals. Visit http://bestblackfriday.com/ for a collection of national retail ads.
If you're looking for a specific product, search the Internet to find bargains at national retailers or other stores. Many national chains allow you to buy items online and pick them up at the local store.
Black Friday used to be limited to department stores, clothing shops and electronics stores, but this year, the shopping network QVC will also be participating. QVC will kick off the shopping season on Thanksgiving night, with 28 hours of telethon-like coverage. It will offer three "special value" items to customers, instead of the normal one per day.
Truecar.com , which tracks the actual cost of cars, is reporting that auto dealers will be offering discounts this year on Black Friday. Truecar reports that dealers and car manufacturers will offer significant savings, averaging around 7.5 percent.
DealNews.com is encouraging consumers to find out which stores allow price matching. The website has important information listing the stores that offer price matching and details on the policy at each store, such as requirements to show the other store's circular with the advertised price. If you stay home on Friday and shop online instead, don't forget to check with currentcodes.com for coupon discount codes.
Holiday shopping can get out of control during the mad dash for the best bargains. You definitely don't want to get caught off-guard in the middle of a large group of anxious shoppers! Stores have received safety tips from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which will help stores safely control large crowds, but make sure you are aware of your surroundings at all times.
The winter holidays are a great time to take a road trip to visit friends and family, Here are a few handy energy-saving tips that will make it easy to save time, energy and money:
1. Check the air in your tires. You should check your tire pressure every few weeks, and especially before long trips. It is estimated by Environmental Defense that 32 million American cars and trucks have under-inflated tires, which wastes 500 million gallons of gas each year.
2. Consider a fuel-efficient model automobile. Consider a more fuel-efficient vehicle if you are trading in your car, which will not only save you money but will reduce carbon emissions. A hybrid can get over 50 miles per gallon, and this makes a significant difference in lowering the cost of your monthly household budget. If you can reduce your mileage by 3 mpg by trading in for a more efficient vehicle, your carbon emissions into the atmosphere will be reduced by an average of 3,000 pounds per year.
3. Try to minimize aggressive driving. Aggressive driving increases your stress levels and your likelihood of getting in a car accident. It also causes you to use more gas and results in greater wear and tear on your car. Accelerate and decelerate smoothly and gradually when it is safe to do so. For long delays, switch off the engine. Try to avoid starting late for your destination, which sometimes causes drivers to drive more aggressively and thus use more fuel.
4. Organize your holiday shopping schedule to minimize travel. Can you combine a few errands into one trip? Can you walk, ride a bike or take public transport to some of your destinations? Can you park in one place and walk between several stores on your list? All of these efforts will cut back on your energy footprint.
5. If you are leaving town, take steps to reduce electricity usage. Turn off computer power strips and similar appliances that draw electricity. Check your AC or heat to make sure it won’t be working at maximum levels while you are away from home. If you own a pool, consider reducing the pool pump operating times and make sure that the spa heater is turned off. Put a few small lights on a timer so it will look like someone is home, but do not leave on major light fixtures.