FLORIDA CFO ALEX SINK'S CONSUMER EVIEWS NEWSLETTER

Volume 7 Number 21 May 21, 2010

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Dear Floridian:

This weekend is the grand opening of the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City, an exciting milestone for this part of our Northwest Florida community. I commend the citizens, local officials, tourism development councils, St. Joe and Southwest and Delta Airlines, who all collaborated on this exciting new venture. The airport is the first international airport in the Florida Panhandle, and is a significant step in attracting business development and increased tourism.

And, this morning I was pleased to join Mayor Buddy Dyer and Metro Orlando officials for the unveiling of a new biodiesel mixing station for the LYNX public transit system. The station is the first of its kind in the nation, and is designed to decrease our dependence on oil and cut harmful emissions.

These are great examples of the kind of innovation and forward-thinking we need in Florida to grow our economy and attract new industries, and I applaud everyone who worked to make them happen.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport Opening This Weekend

This weekend marks an historic occasion for the Florida Panhandle with the opening of the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, which features a number of benefits that will help the area to attract business and increase tourism. As the first international airport in the region, and with nonstop service on Southwest and Delta Air Lines to several domestic cities, what was once strictly a “drive market” will now have the transportation network to significantly foster economic growth.

The airport is also designed to be the nation’s first “green” airport, including a LEED-certified terminal building.

For more information, visit: www.NorthwestFloridaBeaches.com.


CFO Sink Hosts Small Business Roundtable in Orlando on Importance of Disaster Preparedness

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Friday joined Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer for a roundtable with small-business owners to discuss the importance of businesses being prepared for disaster. The roundtable discussion included nine Orlando business owners and followed an hour-long presentation to more than 30 small business owners detailing different kinds of insurance policies and coverages, understanding how to measure the impact of business interruption and what documents will be needed to get any claim paid quickly.

“When you run a business -- big or small -- there is no more important way to protect your bottom line than to prepare for the disaster you hope never comes,” said CFO Sink. “We’ve learned from the recent BP oil spill the importance of having a plan, not just for a hurricane situation but for any disaster.”

“Each year, hurricanes threaten the safety of Florida families and the livelihood of local businesses in coastal and inland communities,” said Mayor Dyer. “By ensuring our businesses are equipped to respond quickly we can help our economy recover faster as well.”

The event is one of 16 free outreach programs CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services is holding this week throughout Florida encouraging Floridians to “Insure, Secure and Recover.” Participants in today’s roundtable included Richard Jaeckle - Disney Entrepreneur Center; Wilhelmina Tribble - Lowe Tribble & Associates; Jane Blankenship - Hosanna Building Contractors; Eva Pagan-Hill - Vitas Innovative Hospice Care; Yvonne Lamour - Family Physicians Group; Halah Abed - Audio Excellence; Marco Alevato - Brazil USA Magazine; and Tim Oldham – Red Cross Deputy Director of Emergency Services; Zaida E Brett – Zahira’s Skin Care & Spa; and Bishop Allen Wiggins.


CFO Sink Joins Mayor Dyer, Metro Orlando Officials for Unveiling of New Biodiesel Blending Station

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Friday joined Mayor Buddy Dyer and Metro Orlando officials for the grand opening of the LYNX Biodiesel Blending Station, making it the first transit agency in the nation to build, operate, and produce “on demand” blending of biodiesel.

“I have often said that Florida should be known as the ‘Sunshine State’ not just for our beaches and great weather, but for capturing the power of solar and renewable energy,” said CFO Sink. “Biofuels advancements can create jobs, support our farmers, reduce our dependence on oil and are better for the environment, and I commend everyone who worked to make this project a reality.”

In 2008, LYNX received a $2.5 million grant from the Florida Renewable Energy Grants Program to construct and operate the Biodiesel blending station. The operation is allowing LYNX to replace 800,000 gallons of diesel fuel with a blend of biodiesel made from sources ranging from used cooking oil to soybeans, which allows engines to run smoother and lowers carbon dioxide emissions by 16 percent.


CFO Sink’s Statewide Disaster Preparedness Blitz Kicks Off with 16 Events through Saturday, May 22

Florida CFO Alex Sink launched a statewide, weeklong blitz to educate Floridians on how to prepare financially for any potential disaster. With the theme "Insure, Secure, Recover," 16 free workshops are being held throughout the state for consumers and small businesses. The week aims to bring attention to the need to prepare for the start of hurricane season on June 1.

"Hurricane Preparedness Week begins on Sunday and we want to remind Floridians, especially our small businesses, about the importance of being well-prepared before disaster hits," said CFO Sink. "Being prepared means more than just having plywood and sandbags. For businesses it means having enough insurance to cover potential losses, understanding how to measure the impact of business interruption and what documents will be needed to get any claim paid quickly. The BP oil spill has been a reminder to us of the importance of businesses having a plan not just for hurricanes, but for any disaster."

The workshops are being provided by the Department's Division of Consumer Services, Division of Agent and Agency Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, Division of State Fire Marshal and the Insurance Consumer Advocate’s Office in partnership with county and local Emergency Operations Centers, local Chambers of Commerce, the Institute for Business and Home Safety, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the University of Florida Extension Service, the National Weather Service and the American Red Cross. Workshops are being held this week in Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Pensacola, Okeechobee, Ocala, Port Orange, Punta Gorda, Orlando, Miami, Crestview, Tampa and West Palm Beach.

Three of the top reasons that insurance claims are denied are:

The workshops will feature presentations that walk Floridians through the steps they should take and the questions they should ask their insurance agent to ensure they have the coverage they need to protect their property and their families.

The free workshops will continue through the end of November, when hurricane season ends. Here is the calendar of events through June. To request an event in your area, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877- 693-5236).


CFO Sink Tours Everglades, Discusses Potential Oil Spill Impacts

Last week, CFO Sink joined South Florida Water Management District officials for an aerial helicopter tour of the Southern Everglades to review restoration projects currently in place and also to discuss potential impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill. While oil remained out of the Loop Current at the time of the tour, CFO Sink expressed her concern for the mangroves and other ecosystems in Florida Bay, which may be the first impacted if oil makes its way to the Southern tip of Florida and eventually travels into the Everglades.

CFO Sink also commended the officials for their work done on behalf of the Everglades Restoration and Investment Act, which provided $2 billion over ten years for projects to restore the right amount of water and flow conditions to the Everglades. Two of the projects she viewed are the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project in south Miami-Dade County, which will provide ecosystem restoration of freshwater wetlands, tidal wetlands and near-shore habitat as well as flood protection, and modifications to Tamiami Trail which are intended to restore natural hydrologic conditions in Everglades National Park.


$25 Million Tourism Grant from BP a Good Step

Florida CFO Alex Sink called BP’s decision to award a $25 million tourism grant for Florida a good step as our state continues to face economic hardship from the oil spill. Over a week ago, CFO Sink met with a BP executive and asked that the company fund a global tourism campaign so potential visitors understand that the state is open for business, and she reiterated her call with a formal letter to BP America President Lamar McKay last Monday.

“Our tourism industry is the very lifeline of our state, and cancellations are devastating to our small businesses, coastal communities and the state’s economy,” said CFO Sink. “We have to get the message out that Florida’s beaches are beautiful, our seafood is safe, the fishing is still excellent and visitors can get the latest information about their favorite Florida vacation destination by visiting www.VISITFlorida.com.”

Also today, CFO Sink reaffirmed her opposition to near-shore drilling and again 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.

CFO Sink has been actively standing up for Florida’s small businesses and coastal communities since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on April 20. Visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/OilSpill for more information.


CFO Sink Welcomes News of SBA Disaster Loans For 25 Counties Affected Economically by Oil Spill

Florida CFO Alex Sink applauded the news that the the U.S. Small Business Administration is designating 25 Florida coastal counties eligible for economic injury disaster loans in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“This news could not have come at a better time for our coastal businesses who are watching the most economically important season of their year slip away and worried how they are going to survive this disaster,” said CFO Sink. “It was clear that the federal government needed to make our coastal businesses eligible for these loans, and I am pleased the Governor’s request for assistance for Florida’s counties was acted on by the SBA. I also want to reiterate that BP must be held accountable in the long-run for making sure the income lost by our businesses is repaid.”

On Monday, CFO Sink sent a letter to Governor Crist requesting the action, noting that only a governor can certify to the SBA that there are qualifying businesses in a disaster area. On Wednesday, Governor Crist sought the SBA declaration. The declaration was issued and made effective yesterday, May 13, 2010.

Almost two weeks ago, CFO Sink sent a letter to SBA Administrator Mills asking for expedited federal disaster loans and a temporary suspension of loan repayments for Florida coastal businesses impacted by the spill.

While Florida has not seen any physical impacts to its vibrant beaches and seafood supply, coastal businesses are receiving cancellations for everything from lodging and fishing expeditions to orders for local seafood. These loans open up an important line of assistance for Florida's small businesses as they feel the negative impact of this oil spill.

The declared counties are identified as primary “adversely affected” or contiguous to an affected county. The counties declared as primary counties are Bay, Citrus, Dixie, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Hernando, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Levy, Manatee, Okaloosa, Pasco, Pinellas, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Taylor, and Walton. The contiguous counties are Alachua, Calhoun, Charlotte, DeSoto, Gilchrist, Hardee, Holmes, Jackson, Lafayette, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Marion, Polk, Sumter, Wakulla, and Washington.

Businesses and small agricultural cooperatives without available credit can apply for loans with a four percent interest rate over 30 years. Non-profit organizations without available credit can apply for loans at a three percent interest rate.

Businesses in affected counties may apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) until February 14, 2011. Applicants may submit completed application loans to:

U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport RoadA, Fort Worth, Texas 76155

For more information on CFO Sink’s work after the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill started to threaten our state, visit http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/OilSpill.


CFO Sink Announces $100 Million Savings for Businesses from Drop in Trust Fund Assessment Rate

Florida CFO Alex Sink announced that Florida businesses will save an estimated $100 million as a result of her recent order reducing the assessment rate for the Special Disability Trust Fund (SDTF), or Workers’ Compensation Second-Injury Fund. The STDF encourages employers to hire and reemploy the physically disabled by reducing employer premiums and excess liability expense. The new assessment rate, effective July 1, 2010, will be 1.46 percent, down from the 4.52 percent rate in effect since July 1994.

“In these trying economic times, our businesses need all the help they can get in reducing costs,” said CFO Sink. “This rate reduction will produce direct and significant savings for Florida’s employers and potentially could lead to more jobs. I am pleased I was able to do this for our businesses, and I will continue to do all I can to find ways to protect our economy.”

As a result of the lower SDTF rate, the National Council on Compensation Insurance, Inc. (NCCI) submitted a filing with the Office of Insurance Regulation to reduce workers’ compensation rates by 4.2%, effective July 1, 2010. Inclusive of this rate filing, Florida’s workers’ compensation rates will have been reduced by approximately 64.7% since the 2003 workers’ compensation reform.

The fund is administered by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Workers’ Compensation. The SDTF was created to encourage the employment, reemployment, and accommodation of the physically disabled by reducing premiums for an employer who reemploys an injured worker, as well as to decrease litigation between carriers on apportionment issues and to protect employers from excess liability for compensation and medical expense. While the Fund was abolished as of December 31, 1997, the SDTF continues to operate in run-off mode, reimbursing employers or their workers’ compensation carrier for existing eligible claims. The SDTF assessment rate is set pursuant to a statutory formula established in section 440.49(9), F.S. For more information about CFO Sink’s Division of Workers’ Compensation go to http://www.myfloridacfo.com/wc/.


ICA Shaw Offers Consumers Tips on Navigating the Claims Process in Preparation for Hurricane Season

June 1 will usher in another hurricane season, and consumers should begin preparing for the potential of a storm making landfall in Florida. Hurricane preparedness also entails understanding the claims process in the event of storm damage. The Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate would like to share information with consumers on navigating the claims process.

In Florida, the threat of a storm is prevalent, but being prepared can reduce the cost of repairs and help ensure that consumers have their claims paid as quickly as possible. Navigating the claims process can be difficult if consumers are ill prepared; there are some recommended steps consumers should consider prior to filing a claim.

During the aftermath of a storm, homeowners should make necessary efforts to ensure that all property is accounted for and restored. Consumers should consider the importance of being detailed and organized while navigating the claims process.

Most claims disputes involve the difference in the amount offered by the insurance company to make repairs and the contractor’s estimate. Should consumers find themselves in the midst of a claims dispute they should consider the following in regards to a claims dispute resolution:

Consumers that have any further questions regarding navigating the claims process should contact the Division of Consumer Services within the Department of Financial Services online 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.


Consumer Corner: How to improve your insurance risk score

What you pay for homeowners or auto insurance can be affected by your credit score. This practice of using credit histories to set rates has been used by insurance companies for more than 15 years.

How to improve your insurance risk score:

Payment History: A consistent record of on-time payments going back several years shows responsibility. Late payments and delinquent accounts can lower your score.

Debts Owed: It's typically best to have few active and open credit accounts with low balances. Use no more than 30 percent of your available credit at any given time. Major bank credit cards with good payment records are better for your score than department store cards, which generally carry low limits.

Length of Credit History: The longer you have had credit and kept individual accounts open, the better. If you decide to cut up a credit card, do not close the account as this will raise your balance-to-credit-limit ratio and can have a negative impact on your credit score.

New Accounts: Limit new applications for credit. Resist offers to open new cards for last-minute check-out discounts on store purchases or other one-time benefits. A large number of new inquiries on your report can make it seem like you intend to run up debt.

Balance of credit and loan accounts: Generally, it's best to have two to six open credit cards and one or two loans.

Sources: Insurance Information Institute and Credit.com

Foreclosure Help from Florida Housing Help

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, May 22, 2010 Central Florida Community College – Ewers Century Center, 300 SW College Road, Ocala, FL 34474 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010 East Hill Baptist Church – 912 Miccosukee Road, Tallahassee 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: Saving for the Future is a Good Habit to Get Into

EViews reader Madeline Muir-Loughrey, age 79, has supplied a suggestion worth considering and implementing when possible:

After paying all of your bills, the amount left over can really make a big difference if it is put into savings.

However, while it’s always a good idea to save, you might find more savings by paying down loans with high interest rates, like your mortgage, than by trying to accumulate growth in a bank savings account.

For example, suppose your mortgage is charging you a five percent interest rate. If bank savings accounts are paying less than one percent, you can save yourself more money by making extra payments on your mortgage, which can really add up during the time you own your house.

By putting the money into the principal due on your mortgage, you can pay off your house in fewer years and also save more by paying less interest. It’s important to be sure, though, that the bank or mortgage company credits the extra payment to the principal alone.

Thank you, Madeline, for sharing this helpful idea.

Saving each month will help bring future financial security, and we all should make saving a regular habit.


Safeguard Our Seniors Helps Protect 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. 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.

Thursday, May 27, 2010 HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital, 6400 Edgelake Drive, Sarasota, FL 34240 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.

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