Volume 7 Number 16 April 16, 2010
As Florida’s CFO, I also serve as the State Fire Marshal, and this week I had the opportunity to express my gratitude to the hardworking firefighters who protect Floridians every day.
As part of Florida Firefighter Appreciation Week, I was pleased to present Fire Service Awards to honor excellence in fire fighting, and also to recognize the firefighters’ fund-raising campaign which annually raises millions of dollars for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
I also remembered our state’s fallen firefighters in a ceremonial “bell-ringing” service in the Capitol. It is so important to honor those who have lost their lives in the line of duty, and to give thanks for their tremendous sacrifice.
State of Florida
Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink honored Florida firefighters in a ceremony at the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday, recognizing April 11-17, 2010, as Florida Firefighter Appreciation Week.
“We all know it takes a special person to fill the boots of a firefighter,” said CFO Sink. “All of our firefighters go above and beyond the call of duty, risking their lives every day to protect Floridians. I encourage all Floridians to take a moment during this special week to thank our firefighters for their service.”
Florida’s finest firefighters were honored with Fire Service Awards, which are coordinated through CFO Sink’s State Fire Marshal Office annually and are sponsored by one or more of the following fire-service related organizations: the Florida Joint Council of Fire & Emergency Services, the Fire Training Director’s Association, the Florida State Firefighters Association, the Fire Chiefs’ Association, the Fire Marshal and Inspectors Association, the Professional Firefighters Association and the Emergency Preparedness Association.
CFO Sink remembered Florida’s fallen firefighters at a ceremonial ‘last call’ bell-ringing in Florida’s Capitol this morning, and later recognized the following individuals and one training center with a Fire Service Award at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday:
During Florida Firefighter Appreciation Week, Florida’s firefighters and paramedics are also recognized for their fund raising efforts on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Last year, Florida’s firefighters raised more than $2 million for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) during their annual “Fill the Boot” campaign, ranking second in the nation and making them MDA’s largest single source of giving in Florida.
In addition to the Fire Service Awards, CFO Sink recognized Bob Carver, President of Florida Professional Firefighters, with a Cabinet resolution. Carver is retiring after 30 years of advocating for firefighters’ rights in Florida.
Florida CFO Alex Sink announced that her Department of Financial Services has helped recover more than $4.4 million for Florida’s insurance consumers in the first quarter of 2010. Under CFO Sink’s leadership, the department’s Division of Consumer Services continues its diligent efforts to help Floridians get the money they’re owed from insurance companies.
“These recoveries are a tribute to the dedicated public service professionals working on our Consumer Helpline everyday and advocating on behalf of Floridians,” said CFO Sink. “Today, it is more important than ever to have someone fighting for your rights as a consumer.”
One such recovery involved a husband and wife in Jupiter who were misled into purchasing a $180,000 annuity by an unscrupulous insurance agent. After receiving the complaint through the DFS Consumer Helpline, one of CFO Sink’s insurance consumer specialists discovered that the agent sold the couple the annuity inappropriately. The company soon terminated the contract and returned all the money. “We almost paid $30,000 for an attorney,” the consumer said. “I can’t thank the department enough because we were duped. It was a huge wake-up call.”
A Naples homeowner also contacted the Department when he was forced to vacate his home due to broken pipes and water damage. After contacting his insurance company numerous times and several visits from adjusters, his claim dragged on for over a month with no end in sight. An insurance consumer specialist contacted the company on his behalf and the claim was soon paid totaling over $80,000.
In 2009, the Department helped recovered $22 million, up from $14 million in 2008. In addition to the Consumer Helpline, CFO Sink also offers insurance consumer assistance online through Consumer Help Online, where consumers can file a request for assistance and check the status of their request at any time.
Floridians who need help recovering money from insurance companies or have an insurance claim, question or complaint, can receive help online at www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call our Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).
Florida CFO Alex Sink took to the old Capitol Steps on Wednesday for Children's Capitol for a Day presented by Comcast. The State Capitol Rotunda and the Capitol Courtyard were transformed into the "Children's Capitol for a Day". Thousands of children, parents, advocates, community leaders and policy makers from throughout the state gathered for educational and interactive events and activities. Teachers brought their students to the State Capitol for a field trip, toured the Capitol to learn about the legislative process, met with policy makers, and enjoyed a fun and informative atmosphere of learning.
Judge James O. Shelfer of the Second Judicial Circuit Court of Florida issued an order this week placing Miami-based Northern Capital Insurance Company (NCIC) into receivership for the purpose of rehabilitation. At the same time, the Court ordered the subsequent liquidation of the company, effective May 1, 2010. The Department of Financial Services (DFS) was named Receiver. The Department requested the combination of the rehabilitation followed by liquidation to allow DFS additional time to assist NCIC’s 62,000 policyholders in obtaining replacement property and casualty insurance coverage prior to the beginning of the 2010 hurricane season. NCIC, a Florida corporation licensed in 2006, primarily wrote homeowners, automobile and inland marine policies in Florida.
During the rehabilitation phase prior to May 1, 2010, NCIC’s policies remain in effect and the Receiver will continue to process and pay claims to the extent possible. Under the liquidation order which is effective on May 1, 2010, all NCIC policies will be cancelled as of 11:59:59 p.m. on May 30, 2010, unless otherwise terminated prior to that date.
Upon liquidation, property and casualty insurance policies will be covered by the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association. However, until 11:59:59 p.m. on May 30, 2010, consumers should continue to call NCIC’s customer service department at 1-888-449-0140 for all questions relating to NCIC policy and coverage issues. Copies of the April 12, 2010, Rehabilitation Order and the effective May 1, 2010, Liquidation Order for NCIC and other relevant information are available on the Receiver’s web site, www.floridainsurancereceiver.org.
For non-claims related questions regarding the receivership, consumers should contact the Department of Financial Services by using the “Contact Us” form at the Receiver’s Web site, www.floridainsurancereceiver.org, or call the Florida Department of Financial Services, as Receiver, at 1-800-882-3054 or (850) 413-3081.
CFO Alex Sink welcomed members of Leadership Highlands and Leadership Lake Wales to Tallahassee this week, sharing with the groups the importance of their presence and their personal calls on legislators and statewide-elected officials.
After sharing with the group what the Department of Financial Services does on behalf of Floridians, CFO Sink encouraged her guests to visit the My Florida CFO website to see how state and local governments are using their tax dollars and to check for unclaimed property that they and their family and friends might not be aware of at the www.FLTreasureHunt.org website.
On Wednesday, CFO Sink met with members of the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association (FOMA) during their “Osteopathic Medicine Day” at the Capitol. FOMA is the state association for osteopathic physicians in Florida, and has been serving osteopathic physicians in the state for over a hundred years.
Extended warranties can be a great way to provide continuing protection when purchasing valuable assets such as a home, automobile, or even electronics.
If you are interested in purchasing a warranty, the Department of Financial Services recommends you follow these tips to make sure you get the coverage and benefits you want:
On Thursday, Congress extended the National Flood Insurance Program to May 31, 2010. The program has been restored retroactive. Since the extension is retroactive, any new policy applications or renewals that were signed and submitted during the flood program hiatus, which began on March 28, will be effective from the date of application or, in the case of waiting periods, the waiting period will start from the date of application.
Consumers with current policies remain covered.
The Florida 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 damages from external flooding. 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 a local insurance agent who is authorized to sell the insurance, or the NFIP at www.floodsmart.gov.
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.
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 19, 2010, Joseph P. D’Alessandro Office Complex, 2295 Victoria Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33901 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010, War on Poverty Florida (inside Gateway Mall), 5196-A Norwood Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32208 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Monday, May 17, 2010, The University Area Community Development Center, 14013 North 22nd Street, Tampa 33613 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, May 22, 2010, Central Florida Community College – Ewers Century Center, 3001 SW College Road, Ocala, FL 34474 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 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.
Now that April 15 has come and gone, what could be done to make the day happier next year?
Avoid owing at the end of the year by increasing your withholding. More money will be taken out of your paycheck throughout the year, but you will get a bigger refund (or not owe money) when you file your taxes.
Tax planning works to minimize your taxes. There are three ways to do just that - reduce your income, increase your deductions, and take available tax credits.
1.Reduce Your Income. The best way to reduce income is to save for retirement, either through a 401(k) or deferred compensation plan at work or through a traditional IRA plan. Contributions to these retirement plans will lower your taxable income, and thus lower your taxes.
Adjustments can reduce your income and are deductions that you don't have to itemize on Schedule A. Instead, you take them on page 1 of your 1040 to reduce your Adjusted Gross Income. Adjustments include contributions to a traditional IRA, student loan interest paid, alimony paid, and classroom-related expenses. A full list of adjustments can be found on Form 1040, page 1, lines 23 through 34.
2. Increase Your Tax Deductions. Most filers take the standard deduction, and some are able to itemize their deductions to take a larger deduction. Mortgage interest and gifts to charity are usually the biggest items but otherpotential deductions include expenses for health care, state and local taxes, personal property taxes (such as car registration fees), job-related expenses, tax preparation fees, and investment-related expenses.
One key tax planning strategy is to keep track of your itemized expenses throughout the year using a personal finance program. Compare your itemized expenses with your standard deduction and take the higher amount.
3.Take Available Tax Credits. Examples of tax credits that directly reduce your tax are adoption and college expenses. Another one is the Earned Income Credit (EIC) that, unlike other tax credits, is credited to your account as a payment, and that means the EIC often results in a tax refund even if the total tax has been reduced to zero. You may be eligible to claim the earned income credit if you earn less than a certain amount. For 2009 special stimulus credits were offered such as new homebuyers, energy efficiency, new vehicle purchase and Making Work Pay tax credits.
April 22 marks the celebration of Earth Day, first instituted in 1970 to appreciate and take stock of our natural resources and ecosystems. For the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, why not plan a few actions in your daily life to conserve natural resources.
Here are a few ideas:
1. Read aloud to your children or friends from books about the natural world. Or simply take time out to read a book that instills appreciation for nature -- Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, or E. O. Wilson's newest volume, Anthill!
2. Minimize your household's energy footprint on April 22 - by working together to turn off all lights, reduce your use of air-conditioning, check and replace or clean air conditioning filters so that your unit doesn’t have to work so hard, take shorter and cooler showers, hang clothes on the line to dry and don’t forget that holding that refrigerator door open while you browse for a snack increases your kilowatt usage.
3. Set up a new resolution for an energy-efficient practice. What about composting? Or riding bicycles to the store? Or taking a walk for recreation instead of driving to the movies?
4. Recycle, recycle, recycle.
5. Look in your closets and donate unused clothes, games, or equipment to Goodwill or other good causes and hence "recycle" to a new owner.
Be kind to the Earth -- our children will inherit it! Happy Earth Day!
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, In response, CFO Alex Sink created the Safeguard Our Seniors 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 so that you can learn how to guard against fraud and scams targeting seniors.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010, Safeguard Our Seniors, Right at Home Offices, 4061 Bonita Springs Rd. Ste 208, Bonita Springs, FL 34134 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Thursday, May 6, 2010, Sensational Seniors May Celebration - Safeguard Our Seniors, North Colliers Regional Park, 1500 Livingston Rd. Naples, FL 34109 10:00 p.m. - 300 p.m.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010, Safeguard Our Seniors, Lake Eustis Institute, 127 N. Grove Street, Eustis, FL 32727 2:00 p.m. - 300 p.m.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010, Safeguard Our Seniors, Gulf Coast Village Retirement Community, 1333 Santa Barbara Blvd., Cape Coral, FL 33991 1:30 p.m. - 300 p.m.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010, Safeguard Our Seniors, Whistle Junction Restaurant, 1854 S. Ridgewood Ave., S. Daytona, FL 32119 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Consumers searching for health insurance coverage since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009 (PPACA) should be on the lookout for scammers hoping to take advantage of the confusion surrounding the details of the new law. State insurance regulators are receiving complaints about scam artists going door-to-door selling “ObamaCare” insurance policies or claiming there is a limited open-enrollment period to buy health insurance. Some of these scam artists have even set up bogus toll-free numbers to sell policies.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) warns consumers who have been offered a policy that is a “limited-time offer,” has limited benefits or is advertised as necessitated by health insurance reform, to STOP before making a payment, CALL their state insurance department and CONFIRM the policy, agent and company are legitimate.
While there are many changes coming in the health insurance marketplace, there are no provisions in the PPACA that require consumers to make immediate modifications to their health coverage. Many of the initial changes will go into effect six months from when the law was signed by President Obama - or September of this year. Until then, state insurance regulators, the NAIC and the federal government are working on implementing the changes. This means designing and putting into place at the state level many of the new consumer programs and regulations. Read more.