Volume 7 Number 15 April 9, 2010
April is Financial Literacy Month, and this week, I was pleased to unveil a new web site called Family Fiscal Fitness that’s full of helpful information for families who are looking to get their finances in better shape. In these challenging economic times, it’s more important than ever that families have the tools they need to get out of debt, save for retirement, or take other important steps to a sound financial future.
Also, our department’s Consumer Services division is providing more than 60 free presentations this month to help Floridians on a range of topics, including how to protect yourself from identity theft, how seniors can avoid financial scams, and more. Check out the scheduled events in your area by clicking here.
State of Florida
CFO Sink joined Florida Realtors and Sadowski Coalition Members on Wednesday in the Capitol Courtyard to talk about the importance of growing Florida’s economy and turning around the housing market. Realtors from around the state traveled to Tallahassee for Great American Realtor Days, and in her remarks to the group, CFO Sink stressed the need to support Florida’s small businesses and reform the state economy to support stable, smart growth.
The Sadowski Coalition presented CFO Sink with the Stand Up for Housing Award to recognize her work with affordable housing and foreclosure mediation. The Sadowski Coalition is a bipartisan group dedicated to supporting affordable housing in Florida.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday announced the winner of the 2010 Champion of Financial Literacy Award during the annual meeting of the Financial Literacy Council— Gus A. Stavros of Pinellas County. This is the third year the Council has issued an award to recognize outstanding efforts in financial literacy.
“It gives me great pleasure to give this award to such an honorable and dedicated public servant such as Gus,” said CFO Sink. “Gus has shared my passion of promoting financial education and awareness for many years, and his commitment to educating our state’s future workforce deserves recognition.”
Mr. Stavros was the driving force behind the world’s first free-standing economic education facility, the Gus A. Stavros Institute, which provides hands-on free enterprise experiences for students. Since opening over twenty years ago in Largo, Florida, nearly 30,000 students have participated in the institute’s Enterprise Village and Finance Park.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, CFO Sink announced to Council members that her new web site to assist Floridians in furthering their financial education and awareness is live at Family Fiscal Fitness. And, CFO Sink presented a resolution to the Council signed by members of the Florida Cabinet in support of Financial Literacy Month, which began April 1. To further commemorate the month, CFO Sink’s Division of Consumer Services will provide more than 60 free presentations on a variety of financial topics from identify theft to hurricane preparedness.
For more information about the Financial Literacy Council, visit: http://www.myfloridamoney.com.
Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property today announced that last month over $22.4 million in unclaimed property was returned to owners – the biggest return in state history. In February, the Bureau returned a record-setting $22 million, which has now been surpassed by the March record.
“In these tough economic times it’s important that Floridians account for every dollar,” said CFO Sink. “I encourage all Floridians to visit our web site at www.FLTreasureHunt.org. With nearly nine million accounts, the chances are good we are holding cash or property for you, your business, or someone you know.”
The Bureau also announced that last week they were honored with a Holders Choice Award by the Unclaimed Property Professionals Organization for “The Best Program/Statute Award” to assist the holder community and Floridians in all aspects of unclaimed property compliance and recovery.
Since the program's inception 49 years ago, the Bureau of Unclaimed Property has successfully reunited owners or relatives of deceased owners with more than $1.4 billion in unclaimed property held in Florida. During Alex Sink’s tenure as CFO, the Bureau has successfully reunited owners, heirs and businesses with more than $630 million, 45 percent of all the money returned since the beginning of the program – due largely to aggressive efforts to contact owners.
The Bureau of Unclaimed Property, on behalf of Florida citizens, receives unclaimed funds from dormant accounts in financial institutions, unclaimed utility deposits, insurance benefits, premium refunds, uncashed checks and trust accounts, as well as watches, jewelry, coins, stamps and historical items from abandoned safe deposit boxes. Unclaimed property can be claimed for free at any time by the rightful owners or heirs by logging on to www.FLTreasureHunt.org or by calling the Bureau at 1-88-VALUABLE.
ABC’s Good Morning America reported on Wednesday that the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate (ICA) has launched a special investigation into The Hartford Insurance Company. Several consumers have claimed that The Hartford has unjustly revoked their disability benefits based on video surveillance evidence. ICA Sean Shaw believes the practice may be unnecessary, especially for patients that have continually shown proof of disability. The ICA Office will seek the restoration of benefits for any consumers whose benefits may have been unjustly revoked and safeguards against future abuses.
Consumers with further questions regarding revocation of benefits based on surveillance evidence should contact the Division of Consumer Services 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.
On Wednesday, CFO Sink met with the department’s Division of Risk Management to congratulate employees for their work to reduce costs and save taxpayer dollars. She commended the efforts of the Risk Management Claim Cost Reduction Team, which worked to create over $12 million in savings in the last fiscal year by implementing CFO Sink’s businesslike best practices and advice from private sector risk management experts. The team was able to reduce roughly $11.5 million in liability claims costs and also reduced costs for workers’ comp claims involving lost time from work by 30 percent.
In January, when CFO Sink announced the $12 million in savings, she also established a Risk Management Advisory Council that meets twice a year to continue looking for ways to reduce risk management costs in the state.
Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink on Tuesday announced the arrests of Lake County residents Bruce A. Tomon, 40, and Chad L. Sines, 40, after they conspired to hire an individual to burn down Tomon’s home. While reasons for the arson are still under investigation, it is alleged that Tomon was having difficulty making his mortgage payments and was looking to relieve the debt with an insurance claim on the property.
CFO Sink’s State Fire Marshal investigators and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office were tipped off by a witness that Tomon wanted his house to be set on fire. Undercover detectives caught Sines on tape providing explicit details to the witness on how to set the home on fire, and also offering a $1,000 pay-off to commit the arson.
Sines and Tomon were arrested this morning and booked into the Lake County Jail on five separate counts each of: conspiracy to commit arson; burn to defraud; grand theft; arson to structure; and false/fraudulent insurance claims. If convicted, each defendant could face up to 60 years in prison.
CFO Sink’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is a law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin. Anyone with information about arson or any suspicious incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-NO-ARSON and rewards are offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday issued the following statement regarding Governor Crist's request to the U.S. Attorney for an independent federal investigation into alleged criminal conduct relating to the Republican Party of Florida. The Governor's request follows a letter from CFO Sink urging an independent prosecutor lead this investigation sent Friday. Read CFO Sink's letter.
“I am pleased that Governor Crist heeded my call for an independent prosecutor to lead an investigation into any criminal activity that may have occurred in the Republican Party of Florida,” said CFO Sink. “It is my hope that the people of Florida will finally receive the independent investigation into this matter that is needed, and that this action will avoid any conflict of interest.”
In order for new homeowners to have flood insurance, Congress will have to reauthorize the legislation for flood coverage when members return to session next week. The National Flood Insurance Program’s federal authorization expired on March 28 and the NFIP has ceased issuing new policies or renewing policies. However, consumers with current policies are still covered.
The NFIP funding halt could cause short-term problems for consumers waiting to close on the sale of a property within a designated Special Flood Hazard Area.
The Department of Financial Services is not authorized to regulate flood insurance, as it is regulated on the federal level and Congress is responsible for funding the program.
CFO Sink reminds homeowners that their standard homeowners insurance policies do not cover flooding problems. The NFIP was created in 1968 to help provide a way for property owners to protect against floods associated with hurricanes, overflow of rivers or lakes, rainstorms, mudslides and winter snowmelt. Those wishing more information about flood insurance should contact their local insurance agent, who is authorized to sell the insurance, or the NFIP at www.floodsmart.gov.
The Office of Fiscal Integrity arrested Richard Brandt, 42, last week after discovering he stole approximately $40,000. Brandt, who is a licensed Surplus Trustee, approached a victim in October 2007 to inform the victim that he could collect over $60,000 from the sell of his Boynton Beach Condomimium that went into foreclosure but was subsequently sold and purchased for more than the victim owed. Brandt told the victim that for a 12 percent fee, he could collect the victim’s money. The victim agreed and signed the paperwork; however, Brandt failed to provide the funds that rightfully belonged to the victim, and instead put the money into his personal bank account.
Brandt has been charged with Grand Theft and booked into the Palm Beach County Jail; if convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Members of Rep. Kevin Ambler’s (R-Tampa) “Ought to be a Law” Student Legislation Delegation presented SB 2596, Relating to Smoking In Vehicles/ Minor Passengers, to a full room in the Florida Senate Transportation Committee. After the eight high school students from the Tampa Bay area shared their prepared presentation before the ten member panel, the legislators on the Transportation Committee unanimously voted 6-0 to report the bill as favorable.
“Ought to be a Law” was created in 2004 by Representative Ambler to offer students the chance for their drafted bill idea to become an actual law. In the 2007 legislative session, the “Ought to be a Law” program made history when House Bill 1161 titled, The High School to Business Career Enhancement Act, was passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate and was then signed by the Governor into law.
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 Street, Tampa 33613 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010 Joseph P. D’Alessandro Office Complex, 2295 Victoria Avenue, Fort Myers, Florida 33901 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.
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Environmental scientists predict that water will be the next significant global issue, with water wars becoming more ominous than petroleum politics.
Water is a precious commodity, and even in Florida with our generous rainfall averages, we need to conserve our water and keep our water tables pure and clean. Did you know that America has four times more sewage pipes than highways? And the United States also has over 15,000 sanitation plants operating 24 hours per day! It is also estimated that at least one quarter of our sanitation pipelines are in serious need of repair. Water is the elixir of life -- conserve it for everyone to share.
Sewage pollution has serious impacts on aquatic wildlife, on urban quality of life, on clean water, and on government spending. Citizens can work together to seek clean water. Here are a few simple steps:
1. Give your water a check-up. Check with your water utility for statistics on possible contaminants, or check out the Environmental Protection Agency's website. Tap water is a precious commodity -- make sure yours is clean.
2. Do not throw toxic chemicals or prescription medicines down the sink or toilet -- they eventually end up in your water supply. Many cleansers such as chlorine do not biodegrade. And environmental chemists are starting to find all sorts of strong medications in the water column, as well as in wildlife, because they are improperly disposed of.
3. Avoid buying bottled water. Most brands are not tested by the FDA and could contain serious contaminants. It also results in excessive plastic trash. National water purity standards address tap water, but not bottled water.
Many small businesses and tax-exempt organizations that provide health insurance coverage to their employees now qualify for a special tax credit, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Included in the health care reform legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, approved by Congress and signed by President Obama on March 23, the credit is designed to encourage small employers to offer health insurance coverage for the first time or maintain coverage they already have. In general, the credit is available to small employers that pay at least half the cost of single coverage for their employees.
“This credit provides a real boost to eligible small businesses by helping them afford health coverage for their employees,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We urge small businesses and tax-exempt employers to look closely at this important tax break - which is already effective - to see if they qualify.” Read more.