Volume 7 Number 4 January 22, 2010

Dear Floridian:

Although this week was a short one for many of you, it was a busy time in the CFO's office. Over the weekend I had the opportunity to work alongside many Floridians who were helping with Haiti relief efforts, and hear stories from victims of the earthquake. I encourage you to take a minute and view a video we put together from my visit.

Then on Monday, I had the chance to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by speaking at breakfast with the 5000 Role Models of Excellence program, which promotes high school graduation among at-risk minority youths in Miami-Dade public schools. And later in the week, I was proud to announce that we saved Florida taxpayers more than $12 million dollars last year by using private sector advice to run our Division of Risk Management in a more businesslike manner.

While these events were different, they have one common thread: our work is never done. And as your CFO, I will continue to look for ways to help communities in need and save your hard-earned taxpayer dollars.

Sincerely,

Alex




Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


State Fire MarshalCFO Sink, Floridians come together to support Haiti relief efforts in Miami

Florida CFO Alex Sink released the following video on Wednesday showing her work in Miami to help in relief efforts and calling for Floridians to continue helping our neighbors in Haiti by volunteering or donating money. CFO Sink spent the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend in Miami assisting in Haitian relief efforts, visiting with survivors of the tragic earthquake, and receiving an emergency briefing in her role as the State Fire Marshal.

CFO Sink in Miami for Haiti relief efforts“This weekend, I had the opportunity to work alongside my fellow Floridians to help those in Haiti, and to offer my thoughts and prayers to the Haitian-American community in South Florida,” said CFO Sink. “The outpouring of support in Miami was inspiring and I urge all Floridians to give what they can to help the relief effort, especially after the aftershock that occurred in Haiti this morning.”

To view a video of CFO Sink’s efforts in Miami, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuVnoGu8dxM.

CFO Sink was joined in Miami by Haitian-American Representatives Ronald A. Brisé and Mackenson "Mack" Bernard while working at a warehouse where donations were being collected, visiting survivors at Jackson Memorial Hospital, and attending mass at Notre Dame d'Haiti Church with the Archbishop of Miami.

In Miami Gardens at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, CFO Sink worked alongside Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson and Miami Gardens Vice-Mayor Oliver Gilbert to take in donations for Haiti.

Finally, CFO Sink received a briefing at the Miami Emergency Operations Center by Curt Sommerhoff, Director of the Miami-Dade Department of Emergency Management & Homeland Security and her State Fire Marshal Director Julius Halas.

To donate $10 to the Red Cross, mobile users can text the word "HAITI" to the number 90999. For online donations visit www.redcross.org. To donate via phone call 1-800 RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).


Business knows best: CFO Sink saves $12 million in risk management

CFO Sink also announces private-sector Advisory Council on Risk Management

DFS Division of Risk ManagementFlorida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday announced $12 million in taxpayer savings from applying private-sector business practices to Florida’s risk management. CFO Sink utilized advice from experts with Publix, Disney, and Rosen Hotels & Resorts and implemented an overhaul of her Division of Risk Management with these more businesslike reforms to realize the savings.

CFO Sink at Division of Risk Management press conference“When I initially asked private businesses to take a look at how the state runs its risk management, the results were eye-opening,” said CFO Sink. “So I put these private-sector reforms to work immediately to save taxpayer money and improve service.”

CFO Sink’s reforms have refocused the state’s efforts on loss prevention. CFO Sink met with four of the five state agencies with the highest claims to share her vision for a fresh approach to managing Florida’s risks, and asked for their collaboration in implementing new risk management strategies. The Division is now providing all of Florida’s insured agencies with new tools to reduce losses and save the state money.

“Every dollar saved through improving our loss prevention program is another dollar available to help the people of our state,” said Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon. “In this economic climate where the needs are greater than the resources available, this savings can make a tremendous difference in the lives of the children and families we serve.”

CFO Sink also announced her new Advisory Council on Risk Management, which will continue the public/private partnership that led to the multi-million dollar savings. Council meetings will be held twice a year in personAdvisory Council on Risk Management, with conference call meetings as needed to advise the CFO and the Division of Risk Management.

Current membership includes:

“This new information from CFO Sink’s Division of Risk Management allows us to better manage our claims experience, reduce overtime costs, and enhance productivity,” said Department of Juvenile Risk Management Annual Report 2009Justice Risk Manager and Director of Program Accountability Beth Davis.

Risk management is responsible for identifying and controlling exposure to loss or injury resulting from the daily operation of Florida’s government. Through the Florida Department of Financial Services, the Division of Risk Management delivers sound, professional guidance to Florida’s 48 state agencies and universities to help control loss and mitigate risk.

CFO Sink’s issued the Department of Financial Services Division of Risk Management Fiscal Year 2009 Annual Report; highlighting many of these reforms. View it online at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Risk/pdf/annual_report09_proof3.pdf.


CFO Sink attends parade, breakfast honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

To honor the vision and achievements of one of America’s legendary leaders, CFO Sink spoke and was honored at the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity CFO Sink and Senator Frederica WilsonScholarship Breakfast on Monday. At the breakfast, Alex praised the program, which provides thousands of young minority boys with funds to further their education.

The 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project was founded by Senator Frederica Wilson when she served on the Miami-Dade County School Board in 1993. The 5000 Roles of Excellence representatives greet CFO Sinkproject’s mission is to intervene in the lives of minority boys at risk of dropping out of school and to give them adult role models to provide the support they need to graduate and stay on a path to a successful future.

Presently, the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project services 82 schools, within the Miami-Dade County School System, which includes 16 elementary, 34 middle, and 32 senior high schools. It has more than 6,000 participants, over 6,000 volunteers, and continues to grow.


CFO Sink Congratulates Publix on “Top Brand” Recognition

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday offered this statement following reports that Publix Super Markets, Inc. is rated the most highly valued brand among the 250 largest retail companies in the world:

“I congratulate Publix on this achievement, and thank them for all they do to create and sustain thousands of jobs in our state,” said CFO Sink. “It is essential that we continue to support entrepreneurs and businesses in Florida, so that more businesses are attracted to our state and are able to grow and flourish as Publix has.”

Publix Super Markets Inc. is based in Lakeland, Florida, and more than 700 of Publix’s 1,012 supermarkets are located throughout the state. As the nation’s largest employee-owned supermarket chain, Publix generates $24 billion in annual revenues and employs more than 141,000 nationwide. Publix’s recognition as the most highly valued brand is based on Q ratios, which are calculated as the market value of a company divided by the replacement value of the firm's assets.


CFO Sink Encourages Homeowners to Check Sinkhole Coverage

Sinkholes and Catastrophic Ground Collapse brochureFlorida CFO Alex Sink is urging Hillsborough County and surrounding county homeowners to check their homeowner insurance policy for sinkhole coverage in light of this week’s sinkhole activity in the area. Florida has more sinkholes than any other state, and in the past five days, the Hillsborough County area has seen nearly 22 sinkholes open up that have caused significant impacts on residents, especially those traveling on the I-4 corridor.

Sinkholes are natural depressions in the ground that sometimes occur when soil, rock, or other surface materials dissolve into underlying water, and they can appear gradually or very suddenly. Damage caused by sinkholes may not be covered in all homeowner policies. Sinkhole coverage most often is usually a rider or addendum to a homeowner policy and requires an additional premium.

Florida law requires authorized insurers to cover “catastrophic ground cover collapse,” which is defined by the following attributes:

However, if your home is damaged by sinkhole activity but does not meet all four of the above criteria for catastrophic ground cover collapse, your insurance may not pay for the damage if you do not have sinkhole coverage.

Here are some immediate steps you should take if a sinkhole has appeared on your property, or if a portion of your home has shifted or sunk due to ground cover collapse:

For more information on sinkholes, including how to file a claim, Floridians should visit the Department of Financial Services web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click on consumer guides, and property. Consumers can also call CFO Sink’s Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).


State Fire MarshalState Fire Marshal Director addresses Florida Emergency Service Coalition

On Thursday, January 21, State Fire Marshal (SFM) Director Julius Halas was a guest speaker at the first Florida Emergency Service Coalition summit. The coalition was created to bring together leadership from Florida’s fire service associations (Florida Fire Chief’s Association and Florida Professional Firefighters)with legislative members and corporate leaders of fire equipment manufacturers and distributors. The coalition will serve as an avenue to increase fire awareness and operational issues affecting Florida’s fire service on the local and statewide levels while promoting solutions through information sharing among the members.

On behalf of Florida State Fire Marshal Alex Sink, Director Halas was honored to address the members of the coalition and took the opportunity to emphasize some of SFM Sink’s proposed legislation for the upcoming session. The Director assured the audience that SFM Sink stands firm on doing what it takes to preserve and protect fire and arson safety initiatives, emphasizing the importance of continued training and having the proper tools and equipment.

“We know we must protect the budget in order to protect the people,” stated Director Halas.

During the summit, SFM Fire College staff made presentations to over 100 attendees on various topics including fire risk safety training, incident safety officer train-the-trainer, and labor and management issues facing Florida’s fire service.

For more information visit the Florida Fire Chief’s Associations website at www.ffca.org.


Sean M. ShawInsurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw Hosts Alternative Dispute Resolution Roundtable

Sean M. Shaw, Esq., Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate

Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate, Sean Shaw, hosted an Alternative Dispute Resolution Roundtable to help Floridians affected by property insurance losses. On Wednesday, January 6, 2010, Sean Shaw invited members of the insurance industry, public adjusters, appraisal umpires and attorneys to work together to improve the appraisal process so that it can once again be a viable, cost-effective claim dispute resolution process. Sean Shaw and the roundtable

Before the 2004/2005 hurricane season, the appraisal process was a seldom used contractual provision in homeowners’ insurance policies. If the claim could not be settled through mediation either the homeowner or insurance company could request appraisal. Each party would select an appraiser to estimate the cost to repair the damaged property. If the appraisers were unable to reach an agreement, the appraisers would select an umpire. The umpire would review the estimates completed by the appraisers and make a determination on the amount needed to make repairs or replace the damaged property. Agreement by two of the three parties would be binding on all parties with few exceptions.

However, since the 2004/2005 hurricane seasons, the handling of insurance claims and the alternative dispute resolution processes; such as mediation, appraisal and litigation have remained a topic of concern for all parties involved in the claims process. Currently, there are no standards for the appraisal process, and this has led several insurance companies to the belief that the appraisal process is no longer a viable option.

A viable appraisal process would enable Florida homeowners to resolve disputes concerning the value of damaged property without utilizing the costly litigation process. It would also reduce insurers concerns of abuse and fraud under the current process. Roundtable participants

This roundtable was convened to address the unique problems represented by the appraisal process that arose during two Claims Dispute Resolution Roundtables that were held in July and November. With the conclusion of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Roundtable, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate will now review the recommendations provided by the participants of all three roundtables. The recommendations of the first two roundtables regarding the claims process will be summarized along with the recommendations from the third roundtable regarding the appraisal process. The Insurance Consumer Advocate’s office is now in the process of drafting a report detailing the concerns raised by all parties on each issue. The report will also include the Insurance Consumer Advocate’s recommended course of action on each issue. The report is expected to be finalized in mid-February and will be presented to Senate President Jeff Atwater and House Speaker Larry Cretul.

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 Housing HelpFlorida Housing Help is impacting owners

At a Florida Housing Help workshop Thursday in Fort Myers, Lee County’s Clerk of the Circuit Courts Charlie Green spoke about the court’s role in the foreclosure process.

His main point: homeowners should never stop communicating with their lenders if they want to keep their homes.

More than 60 people, including one family that traveled from Sarasota County to meet with their lender, attended the Florida Housing Help event. There were four lenders present: Freddie Mac, CHASE Bank, Sun Coast Federal Credit Union and GMAC. The Consumer Credit Counseling Service provided housing counseling, and counselors from the Housing Authority of the City of Fort Myers attended to learn and increase their housing help skills.

Attendees had great things to say about the workshop in exit surveys.

"It helped set my thoughts straight and updated information and gave me good advice."

"I needed help and I received good information."

"This was very helpful."

For workshops that include community partners and resources and offer great information to citizens, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/EventsbyCategory.asp.

Upcoming Florida Housing Help events:

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.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the War On Poverty Offices (Gateway Mall), 5196-A Norwood Ave, Jacksonville.


Consumer CornerGet free prescriptions through patient assistance programs

Just talk to someone who doesn’t have medical insurance and you can see the fear on their face. Most say the same thing: I don’t know how I am going to pay for my prescriptions.

Many pharmaceutical companies provide patient assistance programs for consumers who meet certain income requirements.

The following steps will help you find out if you qualify:

If you have computer access or can go to the library to use a computer try www.Needymeds.com.


My Family CFOAre you eligible for the 2009 homebuyer tax credit?

The Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009 has extended the income tax credit of up to $8,000 for qualified first-time home buyers purchasing a principal residence. It also authorized a tax credit of up to $6,500 for qualified repeat home buyers.

The $8,000 tax credit is for first-time home buyers only, defined by the IRS as someoneNational Association of Homebuilders who has not owned a principal residence during the three-year period prior to the purchase.

The $6,500 move-up /repeat home buyer tax credit applies to buyers who have owned and lived in their previous home for five consecutive years out of the last eight years.

Both of these tax credits do not have to be repaid unless the home is sold or ceases to be used as the buyer’s principal residence within three years after the initial purchase.

Homes priced above $800,000 are not eligible for either the first-time home buyer tax credit or the repeat home buyer tax credit. Vacation homes or rental property don't qualify. Income limits apply.

The tax credit now applies to sales occurring on or after January 1, 2009, and on or before April 30, 2010. However, in cases where a binding sales contract is signed by April 30, 2010, a home purchase completed by June 30, 2010 will qualify.

Buying a home can be complicated, but fortunately a lot of expert advice is available to help people navigate the experience. These online resources can help make the process work for you.