Volume 7 Number 3 January 15, 2010
This week our thoughts are on Haiti, and the shock still stings as many of our fellow Floridians desperately try to contact family members and friends on the island. Several years ago I witnessed the unique challenges the nation faces on a medical mission trip there with my family and church, and I am extremely concerned about the devastation and suffering from this tragedy.
While it is still too early to comprehend the extent of the damages, one thing is certain – Haitians need our help, and they need it now. I urge you to use whatever resources you have available to help the International Response Fund of the Red Cross by clicking here or texting “HAITI” to 90999 on your cell phone to give a $10 donation.
I also hope you will join me in keeping all those affected by the earthquake in your thoughts and prayers in this extremely difficult time.
Our office stands ready to help, and I will be in Miami in the coming days to offer my support and condolences to our Haitian community.
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink held a small business roundtable focused on job creation in Jacksonville on Monday with 14 small business owners and community partners.
“Responding to the concerns of Florida's small business owners is a key part of what it is going to take to grow jobs and help jumpstart our economy,” said CFO Sink. “I am committed to ensuring that the state is doing everything it can to support our state's entrepreneurs and small business owners."
During the discussion, participants focused on two challenges to job creation: access to credit and capital from the Small Business Administration and area financial institutions; and finding skilled employees to fill new positions. Last year, CFO Sink personally contacted the five largest banks in Florida to find out why entrepreneurs were having such a difficult time securing credit and sent a letter to 167 community banks in Florida to encourage participation in the expanded Small Business Lending Initiative.
CFO Sink has also requested that the Office of Financial Regulation monitor small business lending activity in Florida and make regular reports to members of the Florida Cabinet.
Among the groups participating were the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, the University of North Florida Small Business Center, the Jacksonville Chamber’s Women’s Business Center, and the Beaver Street Enterprise Center. These community partners have been credited with helping many local companies launch and prosper during tough economic times by partnering small businesses owners with more experienced mentors.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Wednesday announced the appointment of John Askins as the new Director of the Division of Insurance Fraud, the accredited law enforcement Division of the Department of Financial Services responsible for investigating insurance fraud. Askins has 30 years of experience working for the Division of Insurance Fraud, and returns to the Division effective this Thursday after having retired in 2008.
“I am so pleased to have someone with John’s experience and expertise coming back to lead our top-rated Division of Insurance Fraud,” said CFO Sink. “John will be able to hit the ground running, continuing our ongoing fight to crack down on insurance fraud in Florida and protect everyday Floridians against fraud and abuse.”
“It is a privilege to return to the Division of Insurance Fraud to lead such a strong team, and I thank CFO Sink for this opportunity,” said Askins. “I look forward to continuing our strong tradition of cracking down on insurance fraud and holding these criminals who steal millions of dollars from consumers and businesses accountable.”
Askins will lead the Division of Insurance Fraud as it continues to vigorously investigate and arrest insurance fraud criminals throughout the state. He will be responsible for supervising 155 sworn law enforcement officers, managers and administrators, and 48 non-sworn, civilian support staff members.
John Askins began his career with the Division of Insurance Fraud in Miami just two years after the Division was established by the Legislature in 1976, and continued working fraud cases for 26 years. In 2002, Askins was promoted to Major and moved to Tallahassee to take on a larger role supervising insurance fraud cases, finally serving as interim director. Prior to originally joining the Division of Insurance Fraud, Askins spent four years in the United States Navy and four years working for the Miami-Dade Police Department. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Florida International University.
The Division of Insurance Fraud made over 800 insurance fraud-related arrests in the last fiscal year, and investigates various forms of insurance fraud relating to health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance policies. Depending on the estimated loss amount, the Department of Financial Services will pay up to $25,000 for information directly leading to an arrest and conviction. Anyone with information about suspected insurance fraud is asked to call CFO Sink’s Fraud Fighters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445 or visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud.
Following the filing of Florida's application for millions in education funding through Race to the Top grants, Florida CFO Alex Sink highlighted her steps to bring together school superintendents, teachers and the Florida Department of Education in the week leading up to the final grant approval in the hopes of providing Florida's students with the best education possible. CFO Sink also urged the Obama Administration to fund Florida's full application, given the urgent need for a strong education system to grow Florida's economy.
"So many times in Tallahassee, we have a choice -- we can find a solution that works or work against a solution," said CFO Sink. "With regard to the Race to the Top grants, I felt strongly that we needed to do what was in the best interest of students. That's why I took the same approach that I used during my decades as a business leader -- bringing together the interested parties to try and work out a solution that was in the best interest of our kids. I am hopeful that Florida will receive this important funding, and would urge the Department of Education to continue to work with our teachers and school officials to find solutions that will have a positive impact on as many of Florida's students as possible."
In the week leading up to the final approval of the grant application, CFO Sink spoke with Florida Department of Education Secretary Eric Smith, Florida Educators Association President Andy Ford, Executive Director of the Florida School Boards Association Dr. Wayne Blanton, and former Leon County School Superintendent and current CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents Bill Montford. She also arranged meetings among representatives of teachers, superintendents and school boards to ensure that the needs of everyone who works to educate our students were taken into account.
"I appreciate Alex Sink calling the parties together for a serious and frank discussion on Race to the Top," said Bill Montford. "Our meeting was productive and encouraging because it enabled the parties to discuss their concerns and work towards a solution."
59 of Florida's 67 school districts joined Florida's application for federal "Race to the Top" grant funds of up to $1 billion. The deadline for school districts signing memorandums of understanding with the Florida Department of Education ended at midnight on Tuesday. If Florida's grant application is approved, school districts will have 90 days to sign merit pay deals with their teachers or they will lose the funding.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday announced her appointment of R. Jai Gillum to the Florida Commission on the Status of Women. Gillum, who began her term on January 1, 2010, and will serve until December 31, 2013, is 31 years old and the youngest woman currently on the commission. She joins other CFO appointees Shellie Sachs Levin and Monica Russo.
“I feel that it is important to have a diverse commission capable of representing the many different women of Florida,” said CFO Sink. “As a young African-American professional who has shown a great level of compassion and service to her community, I believe R. Jai will be an excellent addition to this important group.”
“I am honored by my appointment to the Florida Commission on the Status of Women and thank CFO Sink for this opportunity,” said Gillum. “I look forward to offering a fresh perspective to best serve the women of Florida.”
Gillum is the Director of Appointments for the Office of Boards, Commissions and Residual Markets for CFO Sink, and also serves as liaison to the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation.
In addition, Gillum has numerous civic involvements, and her leadership roles in the community include serving on the boards of the Friends of the Leon County Public Library, the Brokaw-McDougall House, the National Selective Service System, Leadership Tallahassee and the Junior League. She is also chair of the BEST Project Leadership Team for the United Way of the Big Bend.
Gillum holds a Master of Public Health and a Bachelor of Science from Florida A & M University. She lives in Tallahassee with her husband, Tallahassee City Commissioner Andrew Gillum.
The Florida Commission on the Status of Women is a non-partisan group dedicated to empowering women. The Governor, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President of Senate and the Attorney General appoint four members and the Chief Financial Officer and Commissioner of Agriculture each appoint three members for a term of four years. Appointees make recommendations to the Governor, Cabinet and Legislature on issues affecting women in an annual report.
Each year, the Everglades Coalition holds the largest annual forum for Everglades conservation and restoration. This year's conference at PGA National on January 9 titled "The Changing Face of Everglades Restoration" brought together the Coalition's 52 allied organizations with local, state and federal partners such as the National and Florida Wildlife Federations.
CFO Sink was the event’s keynote speaker and talked about environmental topics that impact Florida.
CFO Sink encouraged attendees with a discussion about how Florida could potentially see significant job growth in new “green” technologies. She also visited the exhibit booths displaying a variety of programs, featuring many of the Everglades Coalition member organizations.
Information and resources were distributed to the public who asked questions and learned about nature-friendly efforts being made in Florida.
One such exhibitor was the South Plantation High School and three of its Environmental Science magnet program students who are working to make a difference in their own South Florida community.
Candace, Tiffany and Vicky showed CFO Sink photographs showcasing their school’s successful ventures. These hard-working young adults explained that their goal is to become environmental science engineers using the college prep program centering on biological and environmental engineering and restoration technology. They have already made a positive impact with several local initiatives such as teaching younger children how and why it is important to take care of the environment.
On Monday, CFO Alex Sink spoke to the Florida Police Chiefs Association at their mid-winter conference in St. Augustine. She began her remarks by commending the career of Chief Sid Klein, who recently retired after a 47-year public service career in law enforcement. CFO Sink also expressed her commitment to protecting funding for law enforcement in this year’s legislative session. As CFO, Sink oversees three sworn law enforcement divisions, and she spoke about their accomplishments, including the prestigious accreditation of her Division of Insurance Fraud.
The CFO also spoke about her call for pension fund reform for the $112 billion fund that many of Florida’s teachers, firefighters, and police officers depend on for a secure retirement. “If you or someone in your family is one of the almost one million people who are a part of the Florida Retirement System — your stake in this is obvious,” said CFO Sink. “A strong, healthy, professionally managed pension fund is what you and your family depends on for a secure and comfortable retirement.”
Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw is urging lawmakers to ensure that Floridians have access to the most affordable and effective medications available through their health insurance policies.
On January 5, ICA Shaw sent letters to Senator Mike Fasano and Representative Denise Grimsley in support of their legislation relating to prescription drug insurance coverage (SB 516/HB 275). The legislation aims to protect consumers by limiting the ability of insurers to make immediate changes to their prescription coverage in the middle of a policy year, such as suddenly changing copayment amounts or only covering generic versions of a drug.
“It is heartbreaking to think of someone going through the process of finding an effective drug for themselves and their condition, only to have their insurance company substitute the drug with a potentially less effective generic substitute,” said ICA Shaw. “This legislation will alleviate this burden so consumers can continue to use the medication that works best for them at an affordable price.”
ICA Shaw has offered to speak on behalf of the legislation when it is presented to House and Senate committees, and has also offered to meet with Senator Fasano and Representative Grimsley to address any prospective amendments or changes to the proposed legislation.
In the last year, Floridians have been forced to test their resiliency and strength in the wake of financial insecurity being felt across the nation.
In an effort to help the citizens of Florida, CFO Sink created Florida Housing Help workshops to provide struggling homeowners the opportunity to sit face to face with lenders and find solutions to their mortgage challenges.
What many people may not know is that Florida Housing Help workshops are not only for people in the foreclosure process, but are also designed to help people avoid going into foreclosure.
For workshops that include community partners and resources and offer great information to citizens, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/EventsbyCategory.asp.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Cooperative Extension Service, Clayton Hutcheson Agricultural Services Center, 559 North Military Trail, West Palm Beach.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010, from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Joseph P. D’Alessandro Office Complex, 2295 Victoria Ave., Fort Myers.
Saturday, January 23, 2010, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at The University Area Community Development Center, 14013 North 22nd Street, Tampa.
Saturday, January 23, 2010, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Deltona City Hall, 2345 Providence Blvd., Deltona.
The way to start is to get a free copy of your credit report. By law, credit reporting companies are required to give you one free credit report each year. The three main credit reporting agencies are Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.
In recent months, other sites have been created to give consumers a snapshot of their credit standing. Note, these won’t give you a FICO score and help you if you are trying to get a mortgage, but they will help you if you are looking to get your credit and finances back on track.
The following Web sites do not charge for their reports, however, they have a lot of advertisements, which is how they make their money. So, be prepared.
CreditKarma.com This site doesn’t give you a FICO score, but it tells you if your are considered an excellent, average, or poor risk to creditors. If you are trying to raise your score, you can do it here and use their “credit simulator” that shows you how different financial transactions impact your credit.
Quizzle.com This score is based on your Experian score and grades you on different areas such as your mortgage, budget, savings, etc. You will get be given grades in these categories and get suggestions on how to raise your grade.
Credit.com This site tells you if your score is good, bad, fair, excellent, and tells you how that translates into a credit score.
Credit scores can be useful tools and help you as you navigate your financial waters, but they should also be used as tools to help make sure your credit is free of errors that can hurt you.
For more information on financial literacy visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com .
Learning about finances is an important part of growing up. Knowing what you may need to be doing for financial security at each stage of life is part of life's continuing education.
As a young single you may be without parental support for the first time. You may be away from home as a student or an employee. It is important to understand the long-term and financial implications of the decisions you make today.
As a new family, say with children under 5 years of age, your financial situation changes. Your considerations include buying a home, protecting your family in the event of a family member's death and making sure you have adequate health insurance for you and your children. More than a quarter of American children live with only one parent - and as a single parent you need to consider important financial issues for your family.
As an established family, you may already have many of your basic insurance needs in place, such as life insurance and homeowners coverage. However, as the value of your home and other assets increases, and as your children approach college age, your financial situation - including your insurance needs, will change.
A domestic partnership describes a same-sex or opposite sex couple in a committed relationship — similar to a marriage — but without an official marriage license. Know your rights, employee benefits, and the laws in your state to make sure that each of you has the protection that you need.
As a senior, you may be planning to sell your home and retire to a new area, considering long-term care coverage, or evaluating annuities. In addition, you may be entitled to discounts on home or auto insurance. Now is a good time to re-evaluate your financial changes, insurance needs and coverage.
Florida relies on its beaches, coastlines and oceans, which provide enormous economic and ecological benefits to our state – fishing, tourism, hurricane protection through the mangroves and wetlands, weather patterns, cultural opportunities and home for biodiversity – to name but a few of the ecosystem services provided by our surrounding Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Did you know that conserving energy can protect the ocean?
Burning fossil fuels pollutes the ocean. Raindrops with air pollution fall into the sea, and carbon dioxide is actually raising the pH of the ocean, creating enormous concern that coral reefs and many fish could even become extinct with such a change in their habitat. Here are ways that we can all contribute to cleaner oceans:
1. Bicycle or walk whenever you can – cars pollute the air which in turn impacts the ocean.
2. Use carpools or public transport more often, minimizing the fossil fuel consumption near Florida’s waterways.
3. Purchase a hybrid vehicle if you can, again minimizing the carbon dioxide released into our atmosphere.
4. If you have a choice, purchase clean power from your electric company.
5. Do not litter plastic bags - they may often end up in waterways. Not only do they pollute our oceans, but they also cause the mortality of many birds, fish and turtles who mistakenly try to swallow them.
6. Minimize your use of plastics where possible – on a global scale, there are floating piles of plastic debris in our ocean, some calculated to be as large as the state of Rhode Island.