FLORIDA CFO ALEX SINK'S CONSUMER EVIEWS NEWSLETTER

Volume 7 Number 13 March 26, 2010

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Dear Floridian:

We’re now halfway through this year’s Legislative Session, and Florida's lawmakers are facing tough choices when it comes to our state's budget. In our Department, we have been a leader in new initiatives that cut costs and increase efficiency, and we have shared these ideas with legislators and budget staff. Our "Get Lean" initiatives have identified nearly $6 million in savings in our department alone through reducing costs on office leases, renegotiating contracts, cutting back on wireless bills and more.

This kind of approach should be implemented in every state agency, which would add up to hundreds of millions of dollars in savings and help to preserve frontline services like law enforcement and public schools. I will continue to work to find ways that we can cut costs and operate more efficiently while providing essential services to Floridians.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink


CFO Sink Honors 90th Anniversary of League of Women Voters

CFO Alex Sink sponsored a resolution honoring the 90th Anniversary of the League of Women Voters at Tuesday’s meeting of the Florida Cabinet. She also offered the following statement regarding the historic milestone:

“This year marks the 90th anniversary of the League of Women Voters and the historic passage of the 19th amendment,” said CFO Sink. “I commend the dedicated members of the League for everything they’ve done to enable generations of women to shape our great democracy. The work the League does to increase voter turnout and educate voters on the issues is invaluable, and Florida – and the nation – is a better place because of their efforts.” Read the resolution.


CFO Sink Thanks the Florida League of Cities for Service to Floridians

CFO Sink joined the Florida League of Cities this week during their 2010 Legislative Days to thank elected officials and community leaders for their service to their hometowns and to all Floridians.

“From Pensacola to Key West, Florida’s cities large and small offer residents and visitors a diverse cultural landscape that makes Florida so unique,” said CFO Sink. “Florida’s cities and counties benefit greatly from governance that’s closest to the people and the League of Cities is essential in helping state leaders and local leaders work together for the greatest benefit of all Floridians.”

CFO Sink thanked the leaders for the good stewardship of their taxpayer dollars and reiterated that despite Florida’s difficult economic environment that she does not support unfunded mandates being pushed down to the cities. She also noted that by working together on innovative ideas like the Property Assessed Clean Energy or PACE legislation, leaders can help create jobs and reduce energy expenses for Floridians to get Florida’s economy moving forward again.


Legoland Florida Welcomed by CFO Sink

On Tuesday, CFO Sink joined other Cabinet members in welcoming Legoland Florida to our state. The Cabinet granted approval for the theme park to be built at the former Cypress Gardens in Polk County, which is expected to bring 1,000 jobs to the area and preserve one of Florida’s most beautiful natural treasures.

General Manager of Legoland Development John Usher met with CFO Sink before the Cabinet meeting to discuss the beneficial economic impact Legoland Florida will have on our state. He also presented the Cabinet members with a Florida state seal constructed of the popular building blocks, as well as the school mascots from their respective alma maters.


CFO Sink Speaks to Delta Sigma Thetas during Social Action Workshop

On Sunday, CFO Sink addressed members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority during their Social Action Workshop at the 16th Annual Delta Days Day at the Florida State Capitol.

Members of Delta Sigma Theta from across the state met with various legislators and state leaders throughout their two-day event to discuss issues of importance to them, including community redevelopment, equal pay for women in the workplace, and appropriate funding for education.

In her remarks to the group, CFO Sink talked about her work to increase accountability in government and protect Florida’s consumers, and she also shared her ideas for growing Florida's economy.


Florida Women's Hall of Fame Inducts Three Outstanding Florida Women

On Tuesday, March 23, three outstanding Florida women were inducted into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame. CFO Sink gave remarks at the induction ceremony which took place in the Capitol Courtyard in Tallahassee. The women honored this year are Dr. Eugenie Clark, Claudine Dianne Ryce, and Dara Grace Torres.

The Florida Women's Hall of Fame honors women who, through their lives and efforts, have made significant contributions to the improvement of life for women and for all citizens of Florida. The Florida Commission on the Status of Women maintains and facilitates the permanent Florida Women's Hall of Fame display in the state Capitol.

To learn more about the Florida Commission on the Status of Women and how to make nominations for the 2010-2011 Florida Women’s Hall of Fame, please visit the FCSW web site.


ICA Sean Shaw Provides Advice for Consumers When Disputing Claims

Sean Shaw, Insurance Consumer Advocate

When claim disputes between policyholders and insurance companies occur; it is important for consumers to know what to do in the event that they are unhappy with the settlement offer. Many issues arise that may compel consumers to contest a settlement offer. As a result, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate would like to share some information with consumers about how to resolve a disputed claim.

Disputes usually arise when consumers and insurance companies disagree on the cost of repairs. For instance, a consumer may believe their roof needs to be replaced, while the insurance company will only pay for repairs. Disagreements such as these can be resolved if a few steps are taken.

The Division of Consumer Services can be contacted within the Department of Financial Services on-line at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/ or by phone at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236), toll-free in Florida, and (850) 413-3089 from out of state.

The Insurance Consumer Advocate is appointed by Florida CFO 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 Help Educates about Foreclosure

Florida Housing Help, a community outreach program, is designed to educate and assist families facing foreclosure. Workshops listed below will include opportunities to meet with mortgage lenders and HUD-certified counselors. For more information on housing help visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/FloridaHousingHelp.

Saturday, April 10, 2010 The Center for Civic Engagement, 740 International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach, 32114  10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 War on Poverty-Florida (inside Gateway Mall) 5196-A Norwood Ave., Jacksonville  5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Monday, April 19, 2010 The University Area Community Development Center, 14013 North 22nd St., Tampa 33613  5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

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


My Family CFO: Job-related Income Tax Considerations

The loss of a job may create new tax issues. Severance pay is taxable, as are payments received for any accumulated vacation or sick time. Public assistance and food stamps are not taxable. The IRS has updated a helpful publication which lists a number of job-loss related tax issues. For more information, see Publication 4128, Tax Impact of Job Loss.

Unemployment compensation received under the unemployment compensation laws of the United States or of an individual state is also taxable income. You should receive Form 1099-G showing the amount you were paid and any federal income tax you elected to have withheld. For more information, see Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act temporarily will change the taxation of unemployment benefits for the 2009 tax year only. Under the new economic stimulus law, the first $2,400 of unemployment benefits received in 2009 will not be subject to federal taxes. The exemption will be reflected on those tax returns filed in 2010.

There are many tax credits subject to income limitations and if you had a reduction in income this year, you may be eligible for some credits or deductions. For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit is available for working families and individuals with eligibility determined by income and family size. You must file an income tax return in order to claim EITC. See 1040 Central for more information on EITC, other tax credits and tax law changes.

Most importantly, if you believe you may have trouble paying your tax bill contact the IRS immediately. You should file a tax return even if you are unable to pay the entire amount so you can reduce or avoid penalties and interest. You also should contact the IRS to discuss your payment options at 1-800-829-1040. The agency may be able to provide some relief such as a short-term extension to pay, an installment agreement or an offer in compromise.


Saving Energy, Saving Money: Florida-Friendly Landscape Water Conservation

For the 12th consecutive year, April has been recognized as Water Conservation Month across the state of Florida. CFO Sink, fellow Cabinet members and the Governor adopted a water conservation resolution this week.

Water conservation is important in Florida to protect and preserve the aquifer, the natural and mostly underground source for our drinking water and Florida’s magical rivers and springs. Statewide, landscape irrigation accounts for the largest percentage of municipal water use. The easiest way for Floridians to conserve water is by limiting its use on landscaped areas.

Environmental protection begins in your yard and landscape water conservation helps save water throughout the year:

Water efficiently by irrigating only when your lawn needs water.

Keep moisture in by spreading a layer of mulch around plants.

Aim sprinklers so only your lawn is watered and not the house, sidewalk, or street.

Adjust your lawn mower to a higher setting. A taller lawn shades roots and holds moisture better.

Plant Florida-friendly plants in the fall when conditions are cooler and rainfall is more plentiful.

Water your lawn in the cooler hours - morning or evening - when temperatures are lower to minimize evaporation.

Learn to landscape and garden the Florida way at www.Floridayards.org.


Consumer Corner: It Is Time to Check Your Smoke Alarms!

The State Fire Marshal (SFM) is reminding Florida’s citizens of the importance of checking your home’s smoke alarms at least twice a year. Choose biannual dates, such as the recent time change, for taking steps to maintain your smoke alarm in tip top condition. Check the alarm's expiration date on the label, replace the batteries if needed, and clean dust away from the slots so that smoke can enter freely. All smoke alarms, hard-wired and battery powered should be replaced every ten years. These simple steps will help ensure that you and your family will have the best chance of surviving if fire should strike.

A properly installed and maintained smoke alarm is the only thing in your home that can alert you and your family to a fire 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whether you’re awake or asleep, a working smoke alarm is constantly on alert, scanning the air for fire and smoke. Smoke alarms must be maintained! A smoke alarm with a dead or missing battery is the same as having no smoke alarm at all, so test your smoke alarm monthly by pushing the “test” button if it has one.

If your smoke alarm is powered by battery, the battery needs to be replaced annually unless it is a long-life battery (check the owner’s manual). All batteries should be maintained and replaced in accordance with manufacturer’s guidance.


Safeguard Our Seniors Protects Floridians

Every day, hundreds of Floridians fall victim to financial fraud. Many of these victims are trusting seniors who were misled into making risky or inappropriate financial investments including annuities and reverse mortgages by unscrupulous agents and scam artists. CFO Alex Sink created the Safeguard Our Seniors (SOS) Task Force to develop solutions to better protect Florida seniors from falling victim to financial fraud.

The Department of Financial Services offers these Safeguard Our Seniors events to learn how to guard against fraud and scams targeting seniors.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 University Community Hospital, 3100 E. Fletcher Ave., Tampa
1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 Spruce Creek Golf and Country Club, 13601 Del Webb Blvd., Summerfield  1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 The Odell Recreation Center, 2260 Odell Cir., The Villages, 32162
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 The Wakulla County Senior Center, 33 Michael Dr., Crawfordville, 32327  10:30 a.m.- Noon

Thursday, April 8, 2010 Victoria Gardens, 1001 Garden Club Dr., Deland, 32724  10:00 - 11:00 a.m.

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