FLORIDA CFO ALEX SINK'S CONSUMER EVIEWS NEWSLETTER

Volume 7 Number 24 June 11, 2010

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Dear Floridian:

This week, BP responded to my request to send a representative to address the Florida Cabinet, and sent Vice President Bob Fryar. I confronted him about the unacceptably slow response time from their company while Floridians’ livelihoods are at stake. I am glad that the federal government has now joined me in insisting that BP isn’t up to the task of handling the volume of claims, and President Barack Obama has directed National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen to meet with top BP claims officials to assert the administration’s oversight of the BP claims process.

As the state agency responsible for assisting insurance consumers, my Department of Financial Services is well-equipped with the experience and outreach to help with the claims process, and I have offered DFS staff to assist in this process in any way that we can. I will continue to work hard so that Florida’s small businesses and coastal communities receive the expedited relief they so desperately need and the reimbursement that they deserve.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


Federal Government Strengthens Oversight of BP Claims Process

After The White House on Thursday announced that President Barack Obama had directed National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen to meet with top BP claims officials to assert the administration’s oversight of the BP claims process, Florida CFO Alex Sink stated:

“BP has proven they cannot process claims quickly enough to reimburse small business owners and provide the cash they need to keep Floridians employed and their doors open,” said CFO Alex Sink. “I commend the Federal government for taking a more aggressive approach to the oversight of BP’s claims process, however, I still believe that the Federal government should completely take over the claims process and just send BP the bill.”

On May 6, CFO Sink participated in a roundtable with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and DOC Secretary Gary Locke where she discussed the importance of Federal involvement to ensure BP honors claims and pays for all damages. On May 11, CFO Sink urged BP to clarify the claims process for impacted businesses. Unsatisfied with BP’s claims process and responsiveness, on May 24, CFO Sink asked President Obama for the Federal government to take over the oil spill response.

YouTube Video of CFO Sink questioning a BP Vice-President over the claims process: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAOcx4xuxqU

YouTube Video of CFO Sink meeting with impacted small business owners: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slNDkM6Xqb0&feature=related  

For more information on CFO Sink’s actions regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, visit: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/OilSpill.


CFO Alex Sink Launches Deepwater Horizon Financial Accountability Website

CFO Sink launched a webpage on Friday allowing Floridians to track state expenditures in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and to provide transparency in how BP grant dollars are distributed to Florida counties to reimburse their costs in responding to the oil spill. The webpage is linked from CFO Sink’s “Florida’s Checkbook” webpage: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/transparency.

“Both the scope and cost of this environmental and economic disaster continue to devastate Florida, and the responsibility belongs to BP," CFO Sink said. "It's important that BP is held accountable for fixing this mess, and that state and local governments are transparent in how they track cleanup funds so that BP pays every penny of what they owe.”

CFO Sink unveiled Florida’s Checkbook last year to increase transparency and accountability for government spending. In addition to the new Deepwater Horizon Financial Accountability tracker, citizens are able to view information such as financial reports, fund balances, state and local receipts and disbursements, and Department contracts in an ongoing effort to increase accountability and openness when it comes to how Floridians’ tax dollars are being spent.

The Deepwater Horizon Financial Accountability webpage is updated nightly. The financial data shown is representative of what Florida's state agencies have received/spent in relation to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Any monies received/spent by non-state agencies are not reflected. "State Operation Expenditures" represent costs incurred by state agencies in providing assistance for the oil spill that may not yet have been reimbursed. "BP Grant Dollar Disbursements" represent payments made to non-state agencies for protection and promotional services.

For more information on CFO Sink’s actions regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, visit: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/OilSpill.


CFO Sink Incensed over BP’s $5,000 Lost Income Payments

CFO Sink renewed her call on Monday that the federal government take over the handling of lost income claims processing from BP, in light of numerous reports that many affected business owners have only been offered payments of up to $5,000 to compensate for lost income.

“I'm incensed that BP is devoting resources to an expensive ad campaign touting how quickly they’re writing checks, because payments of $5,000 or less amount to nothing more than a PR ploy,” said CFO Alex Sink. “These payments are little more than “bait money” for many of these businesses, and don’t even come close to what they are actually losing. BP needs to start putting its money where its oil is and start writing bigger checks today. Clearly, as I suggested weeks ago, the federal government should take over this process immediately and just send BP the bill.”

Watch a video of CFO Sink meeting with oil impacted small business owners in Pensacola: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slNDkM6Xqb0.

On May 24, CFO Sink sent a letter to President Obama urging that he put his administration in full command of stopping the Deepwater Horizon oil leak and processing the claims for affected residents and businesses. Two weeks ago, CFO Sink called on U.S. Small Business Administration Secretary Mills to review the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) application process to look for ways to speed up the turnaround time so Florida’s small businesses ca  access the cash they need to keep their businesses going during the economic fallout from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

CFO Sink has also called on Governor Charlie Crist to activate the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program and expand the scope of the loans to provide small businesses suffering economic damages as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill with immediate assistance.

For more information on CFO Sink’s actions regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, visit: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/OilSpill.


Activation of Emergency Bridge Loan Program Commended by CFO Sink

On Monday CFO Sink commended Governor Charlie Crist for the activation of the Emergency Bridge Loan Program for businesses affected by the Gulf oil disaster, a measure CFO Sink called for originally on May 3, 2010.

“I commend Governor Crist for activating the Emergency Bridge Loan Program that I called for more than a month ago to help businesses affected by the oil disaster,” CFO Alex Sink. “As I said then, this oil disaster is the largest risk to Florida’s economy in recent memory and we must do everything we can to help small business owners survive this disaster.”

Read the Emergency Bridge Loan press release.


Special Session Supported by CFO Sink, Calling for Business Relief, Consumer Protections & Environmental Endowment

CFO Sink, who called for a special session to ban near beach oil drilling on May 6, on Monday applauded Governor Charlie Crist’s renewed call for a special session to consider a constitutional ban on oil drilling in Florida waters:

“Any special session must include taking up the ban on near beach drilling, but should also tackle urgently needed business relief resulting from this disaster, a streamlined claims process to protect consumers and businesses, and the creation of an environmental endowment to help fund additional research on marine habitats, near shore environments and aquatic areas.”


CFO Sink Honors Mike Bullock of Florida Park Service

On Tuesday, CFO Sink sponsored a Cabinet resolution recognizing Parks Director Mike Bullock’s service to the citizens of Florida with his 38-year career with the Department of Environmental Protection.

“During his tenure, Mike has helped the Florida Park Service achieve great distinction, including becoming the first and only state to become a two-time national Gold Medal winner for having the Nation’s best park system,” said CFO Sink. “On behalf of all Floridians, I thank him for his service and dedication.”

Bullock became assistant director of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Recreation and Parks, also known as the Florida Park Service, in 1996. In 2003, he was promoted to Director, overseeing the daily operations of Florida’s state parks, with more than 1,000 park service staff members and more than 6,000 volunteers.

Bullock was raised in Gainesville and is a graduate of the University of Florida. He received additional training from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design, Indiana University, Florida State University and the National Recreation and Park Association’s Executive Development School.

He was joined at the ceremony today by his family, Secretary of DEP Mike Sole and Bob Ballard, Deputy Secretary of Land and Recreation.


20th Anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Recognized by CFO

At Tuesday morning’s Cabinet meeting, CFO Sink sponsored a resolution honoring the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law on July 26, 1990. More than 50 million Americans have some level of disability and industry ratings of workers with disabilities indicate average or above average performance, attendance, and safety on the job.

“People with disabilities strive to lead fulfilling lives and make remarkable achievements and contributions to our nation,” said CFO Sink. “However, in the past, America’s disabled have faced the possibility of discrimination in many areas, from education to transportation and public accommodation, and that’s why this legislation continues to be of the utmost importance to our country.”

CFO Sink presented the resolution to the following guests:

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the application and hiring process, requires workplace accommodations for people with disabilities by private employers and state and local governments, and provides access to public places and accommodations. More than two-thirds of those who are unemployed want to work.


Wrap-Up of This Week's Statewide Workers’ Compensation Sweep

On Wednesday CFO Sink announced that a two-day sweep shut down 70 employers for violations of Florida's workers' compensation laws. As part of the statewide effort, investigators with the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) Bureau of Compliance made random site visits this week including construction companies and other businesses who failed to ensure their employees were covered by the required workers’ compensation insurance.

“The safety of Floridians on the job is not to be taken lightly,” said CFO Sink. “Let this be a wake-up call to employers who would try to dodge the system by not paying their workers’ compensation or not paying for the proper classification of workers’ compensation for their employees. The construction industry in particular must ensure that employees are properly protected because of the dangerous jobs they perform, but workplace safety and adequate workers’ compensation insurance is simply the right thing to do for all workers.”

During the sweep, investigators contacted more than 888 employers, visited 435 work sites and issued 70 Stop-Work Orders (SWO’s) to construction and non-construction businesses, including general contractors, subcontractors, restaurants, and medical centers who are in violation of Florida’s workers’ compensation coverage requirements. Under state law, businesses engaged in the construction industry are required to obtain workers’ compensation coverage when they employ one or more employees, including the owner. Businesses engaged in the non-construction industry are required to obtain workers’ compensation coverage when they employ four or more employees, excluding business owners who are exempt.

When an employer receives a SWO the business must immediately cease all operations and the SWO remains in effect until the employer obtains proper coverage and pays the assessed penalty. SWO’s are issued for violations including failure to obtain workers’ compensation coverage, under-reporting payroll such as paying employees in cash instead of payroll checks, and misclassifying employees in order to receive a lower workers’ compensation rate. For those employers who choose not to pay the assessed penalty, DWC has the authority under Section 440.107(11) of the Florida Statutes to initiate lien proceedings to collect any penalty due that has not been paid. More than 360 liens have been filed against delinquent employers since late 2009, totaling $13.7 million.

As Florida’s CFO, Sink oversees the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Workers’ Compensation, which has conducted nearly 30,000 onsite investigations into employer compliance this fiscal year. For more information about CFO Sink’s Division of Workers’ Compensation or to submit a complaint, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call (850) 413-1609.


Navigating Federal Healthcare Reform— A Summer Series from Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw

The enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010 has left many consumers with numerous questions about how the new legislation will affect them. In an effort to provide consumers with vital information regarding the new legislation, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate will publish a summer series explaining how consumers will be impacted by the health care reform bill. Many of the changes will take several years to implement thus; prepared consumers will have an advantage when making health insurance decisions.

In the first installment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act series, consumers will be provided with an overview of the benefits that took immediate effect as a result of the President signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law.

The following are the immediate changes that have taken effect:

Consumers that have any further questions regarding the immediate changes that have taken effect since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 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.

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: CFO Sink Reminds Seniors Medicare Supplement Policies Still Effective Despite Program Changes

CFO Sink is reminding consumers that changes to Medicare supplement insurance plans have taken effect this month. Medicare is regulated by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare, and Medicare supplement insurance (also called Medigap or Med Sup) is private insurance that helps pay health care expenses that Medicare covers partially or not at all.

The prior standardized Plans A – L can no longer be sold. There are now 11 standardized plans, as Plans E, H, I, J, and high-deductible Plan J have been terminated along with preventative and at-home recovery benefits on other plans. Most of these changes are due to Medicare’s increased coverage of preventative services and updated healthcare options.

There are two new plans, M and N, designed to offer a lower premium but include more cost sharing for the insured. This means one may pay more out-of-pocket when benefits are used.

The Department of Financial Services’ Consumer Helpline, at 850-413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-My-FL-CFO, has insurance specialists who can help consumers with questions about the Medicare supplement insurance changes.

Additional Medicare Supplement and Medicare changes are expected due to the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act March 23, 2010. Consumers with Medicare questions should call 1-800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227) or visit their website at http://www.cms.gov. Consumers should contact their healthcare provider with specific coverage questions or concerns about what their plans or policy covers.


The Weekly Hurricane Financial Checklist

Having the right insurance and the right documentation can be key to recovering after a storm. Consumers will have reviewed homeowners, flood, or renters insurance policies and contacted their agent to ensure  coverage amounts, limits and deductibles are current. If not, do it now!

But what else do you need to do to get ready for hurricane season? Being prepared for a storm, or even several storms, may be overwhelming for some. That’s why we will be offering weekly tips through hurricane season to help you get organized and prepare - one step at a time.

This week, take the following steps to be ready for hurricane season:

Check back with us next week for more ideas.

Upcoming Disaster Preparation Events:

Saturday, June 12, 2010 Indian River Mall, 6200 20th Street, Vero Beach, FL 32966 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Saturday, June 12, 2010 Debary Town Hall, 2 Colomba Road, Debary, FL 32713 - 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Monday, June 14, 2010 Bloomingdale Regional Library, 1906 Bloomingdale Avenue, Valrico Florida 33596 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Monday, June 14, 2010 Tamiami Village and RV Park, 16555-A N. Cleveland Ave. North Fort Myers, Fl. 33903 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010 Macy’s Credit Card and Billing Center, 13141 34th Street North, Clearwater Florida 10:00 am.–7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010 St. Andrew Catholic Church, 2628 Del Prado Blvd, Cape Coral, FL 33904 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010 Council on Aging of Martin County, 1071 East 10th Street, Stuart, FL 34996 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010 Sea Star Line, 10550 Deerwood Park Boulevard 1:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
Tuesday June 22, 2010 Pine Island Elks Lodge, 8903 Stringfellow, Saint James City, FL 33956-3027 7:30 a.m.


Florida Housing Help Workshops

Florida Housing Help assists homeowners who are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure or may be facing mortgage fraud issues.

Saturday, June 19, 2010 Englewood Neighborhood Center, 6123 La Costa Drive, Orlando, FL 32807 from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Saturday, June 19, 2010 Glasser Schoenbaum Center, 1750 17th Street Building J, Sarasota FL 34234 from 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.

Monday, June 21, 2010 The University Area Community Development Center, 14013 N. 22nd Street, Tampa Florida 33613 from 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, June 26, 2010 Beaver Street Enterprise, 1225 W. Beaver Street, Jacksonville, FL 32204 8:00 a.m. - Noon

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: Start College Savings When Your Children Are Young

The Florida Prepaid College Plan allows families to prepay the cost of college tuition, required fees and dormitory housing – guaranteed! When your child is ready for college, the plan covers the actual cost at any Florida public college or university, or you can transfer the value of the plan to the majority of colleges in Florida, technical schools and out-of-state colleges.

Florida has the largest and one of the oldest prepaid tuition plans in the country, helping over one million Florida families save and lock in the future cost of tuition.

Available tuition packages are the four-year university tuition plan (120 credit hours), two-year community college tuition plan (60 credit hours) and a "2+2" tuition plan combining community college and university attendance (120 credit hours). Optional contracts for payment of mandatory local fees, the tuition differential fee, and dormitory housing are also available.

The beneficiary must be under 21 years of age and in the 11th grade or younger at the time of enrollment (8th grade or younger for the local fee, dormitory, and tuition differential plans). Plan benefits must be used within 10 years after the expected date of college enrollment (not counting time in the military), unless an extension is requested.


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 June 17, 2010 Wakulla County Senior Center, 33 Michael Drive, Crawfordville from 10:45 a.m. - 11:45 p.m.

Friday, July 23, 2010 Suncoast Hospice, 5771 Roosevelt Boulevard, Clearwater Florida 33760, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

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