FLORIDA CFO ALEX SINK'S CONSUMER EVIEWS NEWSLETTER

Volume 7 Number 28 July 9, 2010

HOME


Dear Floridian:

This week I continued to lead the charge in trying to get our affected small businesses in the Gulf the help they need.

Yesterday, I contacted Florida’s congressional delegation to ask that they support legislation that would waive the federal income tax on the lost income payments Floridians have received from BP. Also, I spoke out this week about recent comments from the newly appointed claims administrator that the compensation for some affected Floridians could be reduced or eliminated. This is absolutely unacceptable – and I have made it clear that we must all work together to ensure that Floridians are made whole.

I am hopeful that we will be able to address problems with the claims process and other issues in a special session later this month that I have been calling for since May. In the meantime, I will continue to be an outspoken advocate on behalf of Florida’s small businesses who are on the frontlines of this disaster.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Alex Sink Responds to Narrow Claims Implication Made by Claims Administrator Feinberg

Florida CFO Alex Sink issued the following statement in response to Gulf Coast Claims Facility Administrator Kenneth Feinberg’s comments suggesting that many Floridians indirectly impacted by the BP oil disaster may not receive compensation.

“Anything less than full accountability for Florida's impacted businesses is unacceptable. Florida's small businesses have been economically devastated by this disaster, whether they are located right on the beach or not. Our economy is based on a robust, $65 billion tourism industry, which includes some of the best restaurants, hotels, and beaches in the world— so many of which have been affected by the oil spill. All of the damage and economic impact to Florida’s small businesses and our unique economy must be covered in the claims process that Mr. Feinberg has been appointed to oversee. BP must be held accountable for the effects of their disaster, large and small, so our state and economy can recover.”


CFO Sink Asks Florida Congressional Delegation to Waive Federal Income Tax on BP Payments

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Thursday sent a letter to every member of Florida’s Congressional Delegation asking them to support legislation that would waive the federal income tax on the lost income payments Floridians have received from BP.

“Every dollar counts right now as many Floridians struggle to get by because of the oil disaster, and this common-sense measure just makes sense for our citizens and businesses,” said CFO Sink. “BP should pay for this income tax loss, instead of taking much needed resources from our small business owners and other Floridians.”

Read CFO Sink's letter to the Florida Congressional delegation.


State Fire Marshal Visits Ocala Fire Station on the 4th

CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink recently had the opportunity to meet with Marion County firefighters and personnel at the Golden Ocala Station 20. During her visit, Sink toured the facility, talked with the Marion County Fire Rescue staff about their role as the lead agency for the North Florida Urban Search and Rescue Team (Task Force 8), and was honored to meet this year’s Volunteer Firefighter of the Year who works for Marion County Fire Rescue.

The visit took place on Independence Day while many local fire departments, including Station 20, prepared for fireworks events being held later in the day. Before leaving, CFO Sink reminded Floridians to put safety first during their 4th of July celebrations.


CFO Alex Sink Commends Special Session on Drilling Ban

Florida CFO Alex Sink issued the following statement in response to Governor Charlie Crist’s announcement of a special session on July 20-23 to pass a constitutional ban on oil drilling in state waters. CFO Sink was the first statewide elected official to call for a special session to ban near beach oil drilling on May 6.

“I commend the Governor for agreeing to call for a special session to ban near beach oil drilling, despite the resistance from special interests and some members of the Legislature,” said CFO Sink. “In addition to banning near beach drilling, the special session should also tackle the urgent needs for our business owners and state, including much-needed small business relief, a more streamlined claims process, and the creation of an environmental endowment for additional research.”


Man Charged in V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Fires

On Friday, members of the Tampa Bay Arson Task Force working on the V.M. Ybor neighborhood arson fires, which includes the State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire & Arson Investigations detectives, Tampa Police Department, Tampa Fire Rescue, ATF and the US Marshals Office, gathered to announce the arrest of Kenneth B. Smith, 43, of Chicago, on arson charges stemming from the V.M. Ybor fires. It is alleged that Smith is responsible for 13 fires in the neighborhood.

Smith was arrested in Chicago and is scheduled to be brought to Tampa on Friday.

This May, CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink, along with local fire and law enforcement officials and business partners, came to V.M. Ybor to offer safety tips as part of National Arson Awareness Week and to ask citizens to report suspicious activity to law enforcement.

It is believed that more than one person is responsible for the rash of fires that have occurred in this community and the investigation is on-going.

CFO Sink encourages citizens to continue to be proactive in their neighborhoods – be alert, be aware and call local law enforcement if you see any suspicious activity.


FAMU Credit Union President and Florida A&M Institute Director Charged with Conspiracy

Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, assisted in the investigation

A federal indictment has been filed charging that the president of the FAMU Federal Credit Union and the director of Florida A&M University’s Institute on Urban Policy and Commerce conspired to embezzle HUD grant funds, announced United States Attorney Pamela C. Marsh, Northern District of Florida.

The three-count indictment charges Eugene Telfair (57) and Robert Nixon (45), both of Tallahassee, with conspiracy, theft from an organization receiving federal funds, and embezzlement of funds entrusted to a federally-insured credit union. Specifically, the indictment alleges that between 2005 and 2008, Telfair, the president of the FAMU Federal Credit Union (“FFCU”), and Nixon, the director of FAMU’s Institute on Urban Policy and Commerce (“the Institute”), conspired to steal approximately $134,253 in grant funds that had been awarded to FAMU in connection with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities program.

The indictment states that Telfair and Nixon wrote one another checks from an FFCU account containing the grant funds and created fraudulent personal services contracts to make their taking of the funds appear legitimate. Telfair is also alleged to have created false tax documents, and to have changed the taxpayer identification number on the grant account from the number assigned to FAMU to the taxpayer id number assigned to his credit union.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Rhew-Miller.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a criminal offense. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.


Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Workers’ Compensation Compliance Seminars

Education Seminars will be held at the following locations in Panama City, Shalimar and Pensacola.

Panama City Town Hall, 9 Harrison Avenue, Panama City, FL 32401 on Wednesday, July 21, 2010, 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

City of Shalimar Town Hall, 2 Cherokee Road, Shalimar, FL 32547 on Thursday, July 22, 2010, 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Escambia County Judicial Complex, 190 Government Street, Pensacola, FL 32502 on Friday, July 23, 2010, 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Topics to be addressed will include Florida workers’ compensation and out-of-state employers' coverage requirements, employer/employee relationship, independent contractors, and U.S. Longshore & Harbor Workers' Act enforcement authority.

For more information, please visit the Division of Workers' Compensation website at: www.myfloridacfo.com/wc/


Consumer Corner: IRS to Assist Taxpayers Affected by the Gulf Oil Spill

The IRS has announced that it will be offering guidance to individuals and businesses affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The IRS also announced a special Gulf Coast Assistance Day on July 17, 2010, in seven cities. Taxpayers and tax professionals will be able to work directly with IRS employees to resolve tax issues, including specific topics related to the oil spill. The Gulf Coast Assistance Day for Florida will be held in Panama City and Pensacola.

Times and specific locations will be announced soon on www.irs.gov.

Also, taxpayers with problems related to the Gulf spill will soon be able to reach specially trained IRS personnel through an IRS toll-free telephone line. More information will be available soon.

For more information about ongoing efforts since the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, visit CFO Sink’s www.myfloridacfo.com.


ICA Shaw Gives Consumers Information On High Risk Pools And Using The Web Portal  Part V - A Summer Series

Sean Shaw, Insurance Consumer Advocate

Navigating the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) can be a difficult task without guidance. In the prior installments of the health care reform summer series, issues relating to timing of various enactments were discussed. In addition, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate provided consumers with information about grandfathering their health plan. In this edition, the Office provides consumers with information about the newly established website and the federal high risk pools that will become available to them as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

On July 1 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services activated a web portal designed to assist consumers with obtaining information about insurance benefits that are available in their state. Also, the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) became available for people who have pre-existing conditions and cannot purchase insurance coverage in the private market. The new plan will provide health coverage options for consumers who have been uninsured for at least six months, have a pre-existing condition and have been denied health coverage because of their health condition, and are U.S. citizens or legal residents.

Also known as the high risk pool, Florida’s plan will be administered by a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contractor. Premiums will have to be paid, but will be subsidized by money allocated from the PPACA. For information on enrolling and available benefits, consumers should visit the newly established federal health care website http://www.healthcare.gov and click on “New Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan”.

The federal plan will cover a broad range of health benefits, including primary and specialty care, hospital care, and prescription drugs. All covered benefits are available to treat most pre-existing conditions. The plan will not charge a higher premium solely on the basis of medical conditions. Eligibility is not based on income, but rather on the denial of health insurance coverage by an insurer for the previous six months due to a pre-existing condition.

Consumers who are interested in participating in the high risk pool must complete the application at www.healthreform.gov. The application is available in PDF format in both English and Spanish. Applications received on or after the 15th of the month will likely go into effect on the first day of the next month.

As more information is available and additional changes become effective, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate will generate advisories regarding their effects on consumers. More information regarding the PPACA can be found on the website of the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/ica/federalhealthcare.asp.

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.


Hurricane Checklist: Selecting the Right Contractor to Protect Your Home

CFO Alex Sink encourages Floridians to protect themselves and their property against hurricane damage. After you determine what steps you want to undertake to harden your home, it’s time to look for the right contractor. Here are some helpful tips to follow when hiring a contractor:

For more tips when hiring a contractor, visit http://www.myflorida.com/dbpr/consumers.html.

For additional resources, please visit www.myfloridacfo.com, http://www.disastersafety.org/, www.floridaSBDC.org, or www.sba.gov.

Find out when a Hurricane Preparedness Event will be in your area. Check back with us next week for more ideas.


My Family CFO: Free Wireless Internet and How to Find It

You are probably aware that your favorite coffee shop or bookstore may offer free WiFi. But where else can you get connected free for your internet browsing and studying convenience?

Try the directory at OpenWiFiSpots for up-to-date listings of publicly accessible WiFi spots by city or town. From bookstores and restaurants to public areas and hotels, your laptop can be usefully connected. An Open WiFi Spot is a location that offers free WiFi high-speed, wireless Internet access to customers and guests and/or the general public.

OpenWiFiSpots is a comprehensive WiFi directory continuously updated by a growing community of users. Easy-to-use, interactive mapping  allows you to find free WiFi hotspots in any area throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia.

When using open WiFi, protect your privacy and the security of you and your computer. If you have access to a secured VPN (Virtual Private Network), always connect to it when you are connected to an open wireless network. If not, then you should limit your wireless usage to general Internet surfing and non-critical email accounts.

Make sure your battery is fully charged as most hotspots will not have many wall plugs available for use by customers.

Starbucks is now offering unlimited free WiFi at its company-owned stores nationwide with a simple process to get online. Starbucks customers have long complained about having to pay for wireless and the company has responded to their demand.

Your favorite McDonald's meal now comes with complimentary WiFi at more than 11,500 participating restaurants.


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.

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.

Calendar of Events


Florida Housing Help Website and Workshops

The Florida Housing Help website can 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.

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