Volume 7 Number 19 May 7, 2010
This week, our state mobilized to monitor the very real threat to our state’s economy and environment from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Our beautiful beaches are an environmental treasure, and provide the livelihood for our commercial and recreational fishing, aquaculture and other marine-related industries that so many Floridians count on.
Flying over the spill, I was instantly struck by what Florida would be facing if this had happened in our waters. With this very real evidence, I am continuing my commitment to ban near beach drilling as close as three miles off Florida’s beaches – environmentally and economically, there’s just too much at stake.
My team will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates on important steps our coastal communities and businesses need to take – like detailed documentation of lost business as a result of the spill --- in the event that you need to file a claim with BP.
Together, we will stand up to protect our beaches, our economy and our way of life.
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday called for important state and federal protections for Florida’s economy and environment to better prepare for the impact of the disastrous oil spill. Florida’s $65 billion tourism industry and $2.2 billion seafood, aquaculture, and marine industries are facing significant risk, and the northwest region alone contributes $5.7 billion to the state’s economy. CFO Sink also reiterated her long-standing opposition to near-beach drilling and called for a moratorium on any expanded drilling in the gulf.
“We must treat this like a Category 5 hurricane -- preparing our coastlines for the worst economic and environmental disaster imaginable and quickly ensuring that our businesses and citizens can get the help they will need,” said CFO Sink. “This oil spill is the largest risk to Florida’s economy in recent memory. The impact on state and local governments will be enormous, at a time when we can least afford it— which is why I am pushing BP and the federal government for cash to help our state and coastal businesses weather this disaster.”
On Monday morning CFO Sink was briefed at the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center and outlined her three proactive state and federal actions that must be taken in order to better protect Florida’s economy. During the briefing, CFO Sink pushed a BP representative for active, real-person support for her Consumer Services Call Center. Later Monday CFO Sink received a U.S. Coast Guard aerial tour of the oil spill followed by a briefing at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill Unified Command Center in Mobile, Alabama.
CFO Sink called for the following state and federal actions:
CFO Sink outlined these proactive state and federal actions that must be taken in order to better protect Florida’s economy in letters linked here to SBA Administrator Karen G. Mills, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole, respectively.
Last week CFO Sink sent a
letter to Carol Browner, the Assistant to the President for Energy and
Climate Change, addressing the urgent need for continued coordination to protect
Florida from the disastrous oil spill threatening the state’s economy. CFO Sink
also urged better prevention, including more frequent inspections of oil rigs,
to insulate Florida from future spills originating in federal waters.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Wednesday encouraged Florida’s coastal businesses to prepare for making loss of earnings claims for damages incurred as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In a letter to Carol Dover, President/CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, CFO Sink outlined the steps businesses should take, including record-keeping of cancellations due to the oil spill and making detailed lists of assets.
“Empty restaurants, empty rental properties, or empty stores resulting from this oil spill are the direct responsibly of BP, and that’s exactly who should pay for it,” said CFO Sink. “It is crucial that our small business owners keep meticulous records about their losses so that BP claims can be expedited.”
CFO Sink provided the following tips for businesses:
CFO Sink also noted that in all circumstances, affected businesses should file a claim with British Petroleum (BP Oil) via the hotline number – (800)-440-0858. Additional guidance to help small businesses survive a disaster can be found at www.MyFloridaCFO.com or by calling (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).
Joining together from coast to coast, CFO Alex Sink, State Senator Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach), and State Representatives Keith Fitzgerald (D-Sarasota) and Rick Kriseman (D-St. Petersburg) called on Governor Charlie Crist to reconvene the legislature for a special session to consider a constitutional amendment that would ban drilling off of Florida’s beaches. Hosting press conferences in Miami and St. Petersburg, the three lawmakers released proposed legislation they intend to file should the legislature be called into special session.
“I have seen the BP oil spill up close, spreading for miles. This evidence proves that near beach drilling in Florida is a disastrous idea -- we must never let oil companies drill just three miles off our beaches,” said Florida CFO Alex Sink. “Last year, oil companies spent millions on lobbyists and a PR spin machine and quickly passed near beach drilling through the Florida House. The people of Florida must send Legislators a message that we will not allow Florida’s economy to be put at risk or forget the painful lessons of this historic spill. It is for these times of crisis that the Governor has the power to call the legislature back to Tallahassee, and I hope Governor Crist will do so immediately to take up this important amendment to ban near beach drilling. This special session should also tackle the urgent economic and environmental issues which may result from this disastrous oil spill, such as making absolutely sure that BP will pay for every last dime of this cleanup and income lost by our businesses.”
“The tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico and the growing impact to Florida’s coastline and economic engine underscores the need for some in the legislature to drop the issue of oil drilling entirely,” said State Sen. Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach). “Florida’s fragile coastline and its beautiful beaches are the backbone of our multi-billion-dollar tourism industry. Shortsighted fixes to meet today’s energy demands are a real threat to Florida’s most unique economic and environmental asset. We need a united front to fight the big oil interests who want to open the waters around our state to drilling.”
“Now is the right time to settle, once and for all, the question of whether or not to drill in our waters,” said State Representative Keith Fitzgerald (D-Sarasota). “The events of the past few days have strengthened my resolve that the answer is no. This is exactly the right time to propose a constitutional amendment that will end drilling off our shores and protect Florida’s beautiful coastlines for future generations.”
“Even with a horrific and historic environmental and economic disaster unfolding before our eyes, Republican Leadership in Tallahassee refuses to drop their plans to drill just a few miles off our coast,” said State Rep. Rick Kriseman (D-St. Petersburg). “We can no longer wait on them to put an end to this ridiculous oil drilling debate. We can no longer allow them to steer our state's energy agenda.”
The proposed constitutional amendment offered by lawmakers will:
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Thursday sent a letter to Lamar McKay, President of BP America, expressing disappointment with the responsiveness of BP and requesting an executive level contact within BP with the authority to provide answers to Floridians through CFO Sink’s Consumer Services Division.
“I have been disappointed with the responsiveness of BP in meeting the requests of our state’s elected officials and communities as we attempt to maneuver through the potential economic and environmental disaster from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” wrote CFO Sink. “While BP must be focused on working to stop the leak caused by your well, there is a clear lack of attention to the impact this oil spill is already having on Floridians’ livelihoods, and the potentially disastrous consequences for our communities who already were facing economic hardship.”
CFO Sink’s Consumer Services division, which takes nearly 300,000 calls from consumers annually, has already been receiving calls about damages and claims as a result of the spill. On Tuesday, CFO Sink opened a hotline number to help small businesses affected by the spill: 1-877-My-FL-CFO or 1-877-693-5236.
CFO Sink was in Pensacola Thursday, receiving emergency briefings, speaking with local business owners, and participating in roundtable discussions with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. Earlier this week, CFO Sink visited Pensacola and Mobile, Alabama, to receive emergency briefings and aerial tours of the oil spill. On Monday, CFO Sink outlined three protective state and federal actions to better protect Florida’s economy. View a video of CFO Sink’s Monday media availability.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Wednesday sent a letter to Governor Charlie Crist urging him to place a “Good Cause” item on the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund agenda for the May 11, 2010, Cabinet Meeting to provide the Governor and Cabinet a public status report on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform disaster and resulting massive oil spill set to reach Florida's beaches before next week's meeting.
“Several of us have visited the site and received individual briefings on this national disaster,” CFO Sink wrote. “However, I think it is vital for the Trustees to have an opportunity at a public meeting to receive a more comprehensive report from key stakeholders and to discuss Florida’s options for responding to the oil spill.”
The opening of CFO Sink’s toll-free Consumer Helpline to questions relating to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, which she announced on Tuesday, has been touted in daily reports issued by county emergency operations centers, including EM Constellation, the tracking system used by the Florida Division of Emergency Management during a disaster to disseminate information.
In addition, the CFO’s Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill web page has been linked on several other web pages, including BeReadyEscambia.com, as a source for businesses looking for information on what to do to prepare for the possibility of the oil slick reaching Florida shores.
The helpline number is 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877- 693-5236) and consumer specialists are available 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The CFO’s Deepwater Horizon web page is available at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
“I’ve activated my consumer helpline to assist Florida business owners with questions about how this spill will impact their businesses,” said CFO Sink. “Florida businesses can take steps now to help expedite delivering their claim to BP, as well as help themselves be ready to take advantage of federal and state aid that may become available for recovery.”
Insurance specialists on the Helpline can answers questions about the claim filing process as it becomes available, but claims for damage or lost income should be filed with British Petroleum (BP) at 1-800-440-0858.
The two primary damage concerns for businesses will be property damage and losses to earnings due to business interruption. Unfortunately, this is a peril not listed in most insurance policies, but affected consumers should sit down with their agent to review their particular policy. More information regarding disaster-related insurance topics is available on the Department’s Disaster Response page at www.MyFloridaCFO.com. Out of state callers can reach the Helpline at 850-413-3089.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday commended Chancellor of the State University System of Florida Frank T. Brogan for establishing the Oil Spill Academic Task Force to provide assistance to local, state and federal agencies in dealing with the Gulf of Mexico spill and its aftermath. This comes a day after CFO Sink called for a top environmental experts to help Florida respond to the consequences of the oil spill.
“This group will provide vital information to our local, state and federal governments during recovery efforts,” said CFO Sink. “No one better understands how to protect Florida’s resources than our scientific and environmental community. I commend Chancellor Brogan, the Department of Environmental Protection and the members of the Oil Spill Academic Task Force for stepping up to the plate at a time when our economy and environment need them most.”
Yesterday, CFO Sink sent a letter to Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael Sole, asking the DEP to create an Oil Spill Environmental Task Force comprised of statewide and local scientific experts to help Florida better analyze and prepare for the environmental consequences of the oil spill. She also encouraged the inclusion of representatives from organizations such as the Nature Conservatory, Audubon of Florida, Everglades Foundation, Ocean Conservancy, and the Florida Wildlife Federation. CFO Sink later met with Secretary Sole after returning from a U.S. Coast Guard aerial tour of the oil spill.
The Oil Spill Academic Task Force (OSATF) will bring together resources of Florida's academic institutions to assist the State of Florida and the Gulf region in preparing for and responding to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The partner institutions will coordinate with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and other state and federal agencies. For more information visit http://oilspill.fsu.edu.
Florida CFO & State Fire Marshal Alex Sink, Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones and Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention President James Smallwood on Wednesday announced Arson Awareness Week 2010, which takes place this week May 2-8, 2010. From January - April 30, 2010, there have been 527 incendiary fires in Florida, compared to 1785 similar fires in 2009. State Fire Marshal Sink’s office made 390 arrests for arson last year, four percent above the national average.
“Educating Floridians about the crime of arson and the importance of working with law enforcement and our professional firefighters is the most effective way to fight arson in our communities,” said CFO and State Fire Marshal Sink. “Arson in neighborhood businesses, schools, and places of worship has increased over the past year and our message is simple but very clear: Arson robs communities of their most valuable assets – lives and property.”
“I would like to thank the Arson Task Force for their commitment and support to my communities throughout the rash of arsons we have experienced over the past year,” said Fire Chief Dennis Jones. “I also want to encourage citizens to be proactive in their neighborhoods – be alert, be aware and call local law enforcement if you see any suspicious activity. We want the public to know that their law enforcement and fire partners are committed to pursuing all avenues to investigate and arrest those responsible for these very serious crimes.”
“Statistics show an estimated average of 316,600 intentional fires are reported to fire departments in the United States each year causing injuries to 7,825 firefighters and civilians. In 2006, 10 firefighters died as a result of arson. In addition to needless injury and death, an estimated $1.1 billion in direct property loss occurs.
“The partnership FACAP shares with local, state and federal agencies fighting the crime of arson is something I am very proud to be a part of,” said FACAP President James Smallwoood. “By bringing together the expertise of firefighters and law enforcement, along with industry leaders’ experience, we are making it harder for someone to commit the crime of arson.”
“Arson Awareness Week is part of a nationwide initiative by the United States Fire Administration (USFA) partnering with, International Association of Arson Investigators, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), USAonWatch, National Association of State Fire Marshals, National Volunteer Fire Council, and the Insurance Committee to educate the public on the important role of community arson awareness and how it can and does play an important role preventing this devastating crime.
“For more information about Arson Awareness Week 2010 visit the USFA website at http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/citizens/allcitizens/homefireprev/arsonawareness.shtm.
Florida CFO Alex Sink offered the following in honor of Public Service Recognition Week, which lasts through May 9.
“This week Florida joins the nation in honoring the great work of our public servants with Public Service Recognition Week,” said CFO Sink. “The face of public service across our state is the men and women from our dedicated law enforcement officers and teachers to those who provide a host of services that we rely on every day. As we prepare to protect our beaches from the potentially devastating effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, I am especially mindful of the dedication of Florida’s public employees all across our state. I encourage all Floridians to join me in showing appreciation for the important work of our state and local employees.
“This year’s theme is ‘Innovation and Opportunity,’ and I am especially proud of the innovative ideas from our Department of Financial Services employees that have allowed us to modernize and improve our service, and reduce expenses. Their hard work has saved Florida taxpayers millions of dollars while increasing efficiency and I thank them for their dedication and service.”
Celebrated since 1985, Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW) is a nationwide public education campaign honoring the men and women who serve our nation as federal, state, county and local government employees. For more information, visit http://publicservicerecognitionweek.org/
As summer approaches, many couples will make one of the most important decisions of their lives, marriage. However, each year many couples forget that there are crucial decisions to make regarding their post-nuptial insurance needs. The Office of the Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate has prepared a three part series to aid newlyweds with their post-nuptial insurance decisions.
While all lines of insurance should be reviewed, this portion of the series will concentrate on health and life insurance.
Health insurance is a critical component to maintaining a healthy family. Because each spouse brings their own unique medical history to the marriage consumers should review each individual’s policy to determine which plan provides the most suitable benefits for both spouses. Newlyweds should be cognizant of any restrictions or time limited qualifying events which may affect their ability to change policies. Additionally, many employers may limit adding a new spouse if that spouse has access to coverage through their employer.
For many newlyweds, marriage may also mean welcoming children from a previous relationship into their new family. When children or dependents are involved, there are many issues to consider. Couples with children should coordinate with any previous spouses to determine which insurance will cover the children, who has the authority to make medical decisions, and any issues relating to court ordered support. Should couples need any guidance regarding these issues, they should consult their employers’ human resource advisor or a trusted financial planner. The Department of Financial Services Division of Consumer Services has health insurance booklets and representatives who can assist, but ultimately it is up to the consumer to make decisions. Consumer Services can be contacted at 1-877-693-5236, or through the web at www.myfloridacfo.com. Find a health guide at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/Guides/Health/docs/health_2008.pdf.
Life insurance is an essential financial planning tool for providing for the family in the event of the death of either spouse. Many employers offer some type of life insurance coverage, usually term insurance coverage at a factor of salary; (i.e. one or two times an employee’s salary). Beneficiary designation is a significant issue to consider following the purchase of life insurance. If either spouse has a previous policy, it is wise to discuss changing the designation. Consumers with children should consider that a minor designee (under 18) cannot be paid directly from an insurance company in the event of a death. Many families avert this issue by establishing a trust, but a trusted adult guardian should be named as the executor.
Many consumers or spouses have extended family members who reside in a foreign country. These consumers should ensure that any beneficiaries or contingent beneficiaries are not living in a country that is under sanctions by the United States (e.g. Iran, Cuba, etc.). These sanctions may affect the ability of these designees to receive funds.
Finally, consumers should consider the amount of life insurance that is needed for the family to maintain their lifestyle. It is highly recommended that consumers seek guidance from a trusted financial advisor when making this decision. Consumers who have further questions regarding life insurance should consult the DFS Consumer Services guide on life insurance at this link: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/Guides/Life/docs/life_annuities_2008.pdf.
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.
Homeowners who have insurance with Magnolia Insurance Company, based in Coral Gables, and Northern Capital Insurance Company, based in Miami, must find new coverage by May 30, when remaining policies are scheduled to be cancelled by court order. Both companies were recently ordered by Leon County Circuit Court judges to be placed into receivership for the purpose of liquidation. The Department of Financial Services was named Receiver.
Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jackie L. Fulford ordered Magnolia Insurance Company into liquidation late last Friday, and at the time there were approximately 36,000 remaining policyholders. Northern Capital went into a receivership on May 1, following a May 14 order issued by Leon County Circuit Judge James O. Shelfer. At the time of the order there were approximately 62,000 remaining policyholders.
Policyholders are urged to contact their agents to secure replacement coverage immediately. Additional updates will be posted on the Receiver’s website, www.floridainsurancereceiver.org, as they become available.
Under both liquidation orders, all policies are cancelled effective 11:59:59 p.m. on May 30, 2010, unless otherwise terminated prior to that date. Until directed otherwise, policyholders with installment payment plans should continue to pay premiums to continue their insurance coverage until 11:59:59 p.m. on May 30, 2010. Upon liquidation, the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association (“FIGA”) is responsible for paying claims for premium refunds/unearned premium, with a $100 statutory deductible to be applied.
The deadline for filing claims in the Magnolia receivership is 11:59:59 p.m. on May 2, 2011. The claim filing deadline in the Northern Capital receivership is April 30, 2011.
The Department's website has information relating to coverage, claims and other issues relating to these receiverships. For non-claims related questions regarding the receiverships, consumers are asked to contact the Department by using the “Contact Us” form at www.floridainsurancereceiver.org, or call 1-800-882-3054 (in Florida only) or (850) 413-3081.
CFO Sink is urging Florida consumers, particularly seniors, to remember to never give personal information over the telephone or by email. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has reported a spate of complaints about scammers posing as representatives of the Medicare program in an apparent ploy to get consumer information. So far, no Florida complaints have been reported to the Department of Financial Services.
All of the calls are reported to have come from the phone number (866) 234-2255 and, each time the caller asked for information including bank account numbers. The callers claimed that they needed consumers’ bank account information to issue new benefits cards and threatened to terminate the consumers’ benefits if they did not provide that information.
Never give out personal information, such as your Social Security number or bank account number, over the phone or via email, and never give it to anyone you don’t know.
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, 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.
With the potential emergency facing Florida, think about your finances and what you would do when facing a personal emergency. To prepare for such a situation, having cash on hand is a good idea.
The first thing you should do — after meeting basic needs, and while reducing spending — is to start an emergency fund.
An emergency fund is an easily accessible amount of money for use only in case of emergency. Don't use it for that special item you have wanted or for that new car you have to get. Save it for a real emergency.
There’s no consensus on how much is enough, for instance, a year’s salary, $1000 or three month's mortgage payments. Save what you think is reasonable for your financial situation.
Starting the fund can be as simple as depositing $100 into your high interest savings account. But before you begin, be sure that you’re meeting your basic living expenses. And as you build your emergency fund, be sure you’re also reducing your spending and avoiding debt.
Keep your emergency money in a place that’s not too easy to access - perhaps a bank across town. Don’t carry a card tied to the account.
You’ll still have access to the cash when you need it, but you will be forced to consider your actions before making a withdrawal.
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 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, May 11, 2010, Safeguard Our Seniors, Lake Eustis Institute, 127 N. Grove Street, Eustis, FL 32727 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 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. - 3:00 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.
Americans waste an enormous amount of food, and utilize a disproportionate amount of energy to produce their food. On the average, we each waste about 1,400 calories per day through a variety of channels:
1. At least 30% of food bought and served is thrown out
2. Approximately 25% of all fresh water and 4% of oil is used to produce food that is never eaten
3. Municipal solid waste consists of an estimated 13% edible food scraps
4. Supermarkets throw out misshapen or bruised fruits and vegetables
5. Convenience stores often cook too many hot dogs
6. About 7% of crops are never harvested from the fields
Some positive steps for every citizen include: try to buy only what you will eat; try to cook only what you will consume; and recycle in the kitchen -- can those leftovers be made into soup? or stew? or taken for lunch the next day? And try to buy healthy foods -- mostly plants!
"Eating green" does not necessarily mean consuming more just because you bought it nor does it imply eating strictly vegetarian, but it means eating smarter with a clear sense of efficient cooking and creative recycling. Food conservation can be fun!