Volume 7 Number 26 June 25, 2010
This week has been devastating for Pensacola Beach residents and businesses as Florida beaches were closed for the first time due to the oil spill. Oil has now spread 33 miles along our beautiful Panhandle beaches, and I'm working to help Florida businesses get the financial assistance they need.
Since the start of this disaster, I have stood up for our small businesses and coastal communities by demanding answers from BP and contacting state and federal officials to make sure access to financial assistance is immediately available. Just today, I urged SBA Administrator Karen Mills to get the word out about their emergency loans that can provide expedited relief to businesses who are struggling to make ends meet.
My heart goes out to the Panhandle residents who are on the frontlines of this disaster, and I will continue to be an advocate for Florida's small businesses that have been impacted by this spill.
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Friday urged SBA Administrator Karen Mills to proactively get the word out about the quick turnaround time of the SBA's emergency loan process that can provide much-needed, expedited relief to small businesses impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
She thanked Administrator Mills for recognizing the challenges facing Florida businesses impacted by the oil spill disaster and adapting underwriting guidelines for the emergency loans to expedite loan approval. CFO Sink also praised the SBA for including the consideration of future BP payments for repayment ability, in lieu of SBA's standard process, to quickly get Gulf businesses the assistance they need. Sink also expressed concern that misinformation about turnaround time for loan approval may be deterring some small businesses from seeking these emergency funds.
“An eight-day turnaround on these emergency loans is quite an accomplishment and could be just the lifeline many of our small businesses in Northwest Florida need,” said CFO Sink. “We continue to hear from businesses who fear they don’t have time for the standard application process and are reluctant to apply, believing it takes months – not days – to process their loan. I urge you to advertise SBA's expedited loan process in Northwest Florida to get the word out about your great work in accelerating these loans.”
Florida CFO Alex Sink published a special edition of her Consumer eViews newsletter this week to offer impacted small businesses in Florida information on how to deal with the effects of the BP oil spill, including how to file a claim and how to prepare should oil be brought inland with a hurricane this storm season. Floridians can access the special eViews newsletter by clicking here: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/PressOffice/Newsletter/SpecialBulletin/June_2110.htm.
“Floridians have so many questions, and with information available on a number of websites and in different forms, this is a special bulletin to help our employers and small businesses find the information they need easily and get help as soon as possible,” said CFO Sink. “Whether you need an emergency loan, are looking for one of the Gulf oil recovery jobs, or need to know how to file a claim with BP, the information in our special bulletin will help navigate the assistance that has become available.”
CFO Sink also reiterated her commitment to hold BP accountable for all damages incurred as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“Please be assured that I will continue standing up for our small businesses and coastal communities and will not stop until impacted Floridians finally receive the assistance – and reimbursements – they deserve,” CFO Sink continued.
For more information on CFO Sink’s actions regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, visit: www.myfloridacfo.com/OilSpill.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday announced that her Bureau of Unclaimed Property will begin focusing additional efforts to return unclaimed cash or property to Floridians living in areas affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
“During this disaster and tough economic climate, every penny counts,” said CFO Alex Sink. “I encourage Gulf residents and businesses to visit www.FLTreasureHunt.org today to see if the state is holding any unclaimed property that may help them weather the economic effects of this disaster.”
Individuals with more than $100 in unclaimed property in Wakulla, Franklin, Gulf, Bay, Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Escambia will be receiving notices in the mail informing them how to claim their property. Those counties currently hold more than 335,000 unclaimed property accounts worth more than $30.5 million.
So far this fiscal year, CFO Sink's Bureau of Unclaimed Property has returned $187 million, already $13 million more than last year’s record-setting year. The bureau also recently won the 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 Florida Bureau of Unclaimed Property has successfully reunited owners or relatives of deceased owners with more than $1.4 billion in unclaimed property. During CFO Sink’s tenure as CFO, the Bureau has successfully reunited owners, heirs and businesses with more than $678 million, 48 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.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Wednesday announced the arrest of Broward County Sheriff's Deputy Shawn Barber, 43, on three felony counts for creating a fraudulent accident report and insurance forms, for the purpose of receiving reimbursement for concert tickets. Barber was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail this afternoon and is being held on $15,000 bond; if convicted, Barber could face up to 15 years behind bars.
With assistance from the Broward County Sheriff's Office (BCSO) and the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office Public Integrity Unit, Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) detectives were able to determine that Deputy Barber created a false State of Florida accident report using a real BCSO case number that had no relevance to the alleged accident. The fraudulent document detailed an automobile accident. The report also stated that Wendy Barber was at fault and was given a traffic citation (ticket) for the accident. Through investigative efforts, DIF detectives were able to identify that Deputy Barber was not working the day the accident report was created nor did the accident ever occur.
The Division of Insurance Fraud made more than 930 insurance fraud-related arrests in the last fiscal year, and investigates various forms of insurance fraud, including health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance. Depending on the estimated loss amount, DIF will pay up to $25,000 for information directly leading to an arrest and conviction. Anyone with information about this or any other suspected insurance fraud is asked to call CFO Sink’s Fraud Fighters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445 or visit to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud.
Navigating the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act can be a difficult task without guidance. In the two previous installments of this series, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate provided consumers with information regarding benefits that became immediately available upon passage of the reforms, and what changes consumers can expect in future years.
Consumers should be aware that on September 23, 2010, numerous provisions will take effect. Many of these provisions will ensure that consumers retain coverage and remain covered regardless of their circumstances.
Some of the benefits that will be enacted on the first policy anniversary on or after September 23, 2010, are as follows:
Consumers should contact their insurer or employer to obtain any additional information regarding changes to their specific policy.
As additional changes become effective, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate (ICA) will generate advisories regarding their effect on consumers. More information regarding the PPACA can be found on the website of the ICA: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/ica/federalhealthcare.asp.
Consumers who have further questions regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 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.
Nearly 175 small business owners and officials from throughout Levy County turned out for a BP claim process presentation in Cedar Key, hosted by Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Department of Financial Services in partnership with the Levy County Emergency Management Office, Cedar Key City Commissioners and Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce. CFO Sink has charged her outreach coordinators with educating small business owners on the BP claim process to ensure businesses receive the full value of their claims in the most efficient manner possible.
The presentation outlined the BP claim process, the types of claims covered, the documentation necessary to file a claim, and other options of assistance. CFO Sink has established a website, www.MyFloridaCFO.com/OilSpill, dedicated to keeping small businesses updated on the latest resources and information on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
CFO Alex Sink also launched a new webpage 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 at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/transparency.
Florida is the lightning capital of North America with an average of 1.4 million lightning strikes each year, with summer typically being the peak season. The National Weather Service has declared June 20-26, 2010, as Lightning Safety Awareness Week.
Florida CFO Alex Sink's Outreach Coordinator Tiffany Reeves participated Tuesday in a panel discussion at a small business resource fair in Lake City. Close to 70 small business owners heard from experts from around the state on preparing their businesses to access capital, traditional and non-traditional sources for accessing capital, and alternatives methods for accessing capital.
CFO Alex Sink has held Town Hall Meetings across the state to hear from small business owners on their issues and concerns. At Tuesday's panel discussion, Reeves offered the following ideas on how insurance can enhance a small business’s ability to access capital:
This week's Hurricane Checklist reminder is to make sure your valuables such as jewelry, watches, furs, guns, silverware, coin and stamp collections, computers, musical instruments, etc., are sufficiently covered under your homeowner's policy.
These items are covered under your personal property coverage. However, most policies that have a pre-set limit they will pay for these items. You can purchase higher limits by contacting your insurance agent.
If you rent, talk to your insurance agent about making sure that you understand what is covered under your renters insurance policy so that you can make any adjustments that may be needed.
For some of the higher value items, your insurance company may require an appraisal or a receipt from the original purchase. Since insurance policies can vary from company to company, the limits placed on these items could vary as well. You can find a list of the personal property and the coverage limit in your policy.
It’s always a good idea to keep pictures or a video of your possessions. Remember, if you have to evacuate, you may have limited time and space to take things with you.
Find out when a Hurricane Preparedness Event will be in your area from our calendar: Upcoming Disaster Preparation Events. Check back with us next week for more ideas.
The Florida Housing Help website will help connect struggling Floridians who may be at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure or may be facing mortgage fraud issues with assistance. For a schedule of workshops that include community partners and resources and offer great information for citizens, read the Florida Housing Help Calendar.
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.
Florida CFO Alex Sink's Department of Financial Services hosted Safeguard Our Seniors workshops in Fort Walton Beach and Destin this past week as part of CFO Sink's ongoing statewide initiative to protect seniors from financial fraud through education and increased awareness.
The Department of Financial Services was joined by a local victim of financial fraud who told her story, along with representatives from the department's Division of Agent and Agency Services, the Division of Insurance Fraud and the Division of Consumer Services.
Over the last two years, CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has held more than 400 Safeguard Our Seniors events throughout the state to teach how to guard against fraud and scams targeting seniors.