FLORIDA CFO ALEX SINK'S CONSUMER EVIEWS NEWSLETTER

Volume 7 Number 47 November 19, 2010

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Dear Floridian:

As your CFO, I have spent the past four years using my experience as a businesswoman to look for ways that we can save taxpayer dollars while increasing efficiency in state government. Just this week, I asked state employees to simply sign up to receive their W-2 forms electronically, which not only is convenient for state workers but also would save taxpayers an estimated $75,000 a year if all employees opted in.

Also this week, I expressed my disappointment that the Florida legislature failed to put cost-saving reforms into law that I’ve proposed for our state’s risk management program. These easy changes, which passed the legislature unanimously in the 2010 regular session, would have saved taxpayers at least $18 million over the next five years and reduced workers’ compensation costs for Florida’s businesses. This week’s special session was a perfect opportunity for a veto override to enact these good, money-saving policies, and it was unfortunate that the legislature did not use this opportunity.

During my term, we have been able to save the taxpayers of Florida millions of dollars through common-sense, innovative measures, and I commend the employees in my Department of Financial Services who have proposed and worked on implementing these cost-savings initiatives.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Sink Urges State Employees to Use Online W-2, Saving Taxpayers Up to $75,000 a Year

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Wednesday asked state employees to sign up to receive their W-2 forms electronically, which could save Florida taxpayers $75,000 annually if all state employees participated. CFO Sink also highlighted conveniences for employees with electronic W-2s, including earlier access to the form and eliminating the risk of the form being lost or misplaced.

“I am always looking for ways to save money and improve efficiency for the state, and having our employees receive their W-2 forms electronically is a great example of how we can be more cost effective,” said CFO Sink. “I encourage all state employees to take advantage of this quick and easy option, which saves taxpayers thousands of dollars and also allows employees the convenience of online access to this important document.”

CFO Sink sent an email to all agency heads to share with their state employees urging them to take advantage of this convenient option by visiting the Employee Information Center website to opt in. CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services will notify participating employees via email when electronic 2010 W-2 forms are available in early January 2011 and employees can also view and print payroll earnings statements online. More than 28,000 state employees have already registered to receive their W-2 forms electronically.

CFO Sink has saved the state millions of dollars by running state government more efficiently and cost effectively. CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services realized more than $1 million in savings for Florida’s taxpayers through numerous electronic and paperless efforts and cut print volume in half since 2007. For more information on CFO Sink’s cost savings efforts or electronic W-2 forms, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


CFO Sink Addresses Florida Gubernatorial Fellows

This week, CFO Sink met with participants in the Florida Gubernatorial Fellows Program, which is set up to provide leadership opportunities for college students to gain firsthand experience into state government. The program seeks to attract Florida’s best and brightest university and college students to serve the people of Florida for two semesters in Tallahassee, and this year, 13 students were selected through a statewide competitive process. Participants are placed within the Executive Office of the Governor or one of the Governor’s agencies, and the program also includes weekly leadership meetings with state leaders such as CFO Sink and other Cabinet members, as well as the Governor, agency heads, and Supreme Court justices.

In her remarks to the group, CFO Sink congratulated the students for being selected to participate in the program, and discussed her inspiration to become involved in community service at a young age. She also encouraged the students to continue to participate in public service and take on more leadership roles to build a brighter, stronger future for Florida.


State Fire Marshal Alex Sink Calls On Help from Pensacola Residents to Catch Arsonist

Florida State Fire Marshal and CFO Alex Sink is asking citizens in Pensacola for assistance in finding the person or persons responsible for the fire at World Ford in “Car City” on Pensacola Boulevard that occurred around 5:00 a.m. CT on November 17. It is believed that the fire was intentionally set.

The State Fire Marshal’s Pensacola Office of the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI), along with the local Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were called by local fire authorities and are currently working the fire investigation. Anyone who may have been in the vicinity of the fire between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m. CT on November 17, or who may have received information about the fire, is encouraged to call the BFAI’s Pensacola Office at (850) 453-7803. Please keep in mind that if you provide information which leads to the arrest and conviction of an arson suspect, you may qualify for a cash reward provided by the Florida Advisory Committee of Arson Prevention. The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigation will accept anonymous calls.


CFO Alex Sink Commends Legislature for Honoring Energy Rebate Promise to Floridians

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday commended the Florida Legislature for making available federal funding for energy rebates promised to Floridians who spent their own resources to install energy conservation technologies in their homes and businesses.

“I know from my decades as a businesswoman that when you promise a consumer a rebate, you should make good on that promise,” said CFO Alex Sink. “The Florida Legislature did the right thing today by making sure Floridians who participated in the program and followed the rules as advertised are paid their promised rebates. In addition to moving Florida towards a more reliable energy future, this good program will help create and sustain innovative green jobs that our state’s economy desperately needs.”


CFO Alex Sink Statement on Florida Legislature Retreat on HB 5603

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday blasted the Florida Legislature for backing down from their previously unanimous support of HB 5603, a bill that would save Florida taxpayers millions by addressing the rising costs of workers’ compensation claims in the state risk management program, and limit the cost of repackaged medications which have increased the costs of prescription drugs.

According to the Miami Herald, a single company directly benefiting from the veto, Automated Healthcare Solutions, “gave more than $1 million to political spending committees headed by the incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon.” Additionally the Herald reports that following Governor-elect Rick Scott’s primary victory, the company poured “$735,000 into the Florida Republican Party and another $145,000 to Scott’s (Let’s Get to Work) spending committee.”

"This gives the appearance that the Florida Legislature and Governor-elect Rick Scott are getting square with the special interests that funded their campaigns,” said CFO Alex Sink. “This was a perfect opportunity to save taxpayers millions of dollars and reduce workers’ compensation costs for Florida businesses. Once again, Tallahassee business-as-usual prevailed.”

According to the Department of Financial Services Division of Risk Management, HB 5603 would have saved taxpayers at least $18 million over the next five years.


State Farm Discontinues Servicing of Flood Insurance

Terry Butler, Interim Insurance Consumer Advocate

Starting October 1, 2010, State Farm, and its Florida subsidiary - State Farm Florida - began to discontinue the servicing of flood insurance purchased by their property insurance customers.

State Farm and other insurance companies do not actually insure damages caused by floods. Flood insurance is provided by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

State Farm will be transferring its property insurance customers’ flood policies to NFIP Direct, a program established by FEMA for direct servicing. State Farm agents will continue to sell coverage through NFIP Direct and provide administrative service to existing customers whose policies transfer to NFIP Direct. Claims handling will be by FEMA and government-designated claims adjusters. State Farm property insurance customers will be given 90 days notice of the changes prior to the expiration date of their current flood insurance policy.

State Farm is currently one of a number of insurers that can issue FEMA flood policies and provide the necessary services for these policies, such as premium collection and payment of claims, in exchange for administrative fees and commissions.

Since premiums are set by the NFIP, not insurers such as State Farm, there will be no change in premiums as a result of State Farm’s action. Also, existing flood insurance policyholders will not have to submit a new application in order for their policies to be continued directly through NFIP Direct.

For State Farm flood insurance customers, this means no change in who is providing the coverage. Flood coverage will continue to be provided by the federal government and customers can still be assisted by State Farm agents in acquiring the federal insurance. The only change going forward will be that policy applications and flood claims will no longer be overseen by State Farm.

The transfer process will take place over a 12-month period, and begin once the company’s current NFIP arrangement expires on September 30, 2010. In a press release, State Farm vowed that it would work closely with FEMA and NFIP Direct to ensure an orderly transfer of policies and responsibilities under the program.

State Farm will still service policies issued or renewed before October 1, 2010, until their next expiration date. The company will continue to handle claims occurring before the policies transfer, until April 2012.

The Insurance Consumer Advocate is appointed by Florida Chief Financial Officer 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: Century Service Systems Warranty Company Ordered into Liquidation

On November 12, 2010, Century Service Systems, Inc. (“Century”) was ordered into receivership for purposes of liquidation by Judge Terry P. Lewis of the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County. The Florida Department of Financial Services is the court appointed Receiver of Century. Century consented to the receivership.

The deadline for filing claims in the Century receivership is 11:59:59 p.m. on November 12, 2011. Information regarding the method for filing claims in the liquidation proceeding will be mailed to Century’s contract holders and also available on the Department’s website in the near future.

Consumers with questions regarding claims they filed with Century should contact the company directly at (866) 930-1177.

Century was licensed on September 16, 1994, to transact business in the state of Florida as a service warranty association and is located in Deerfield Beach. Century ceased writing new or renewal business on November 3, 2010.

As of the liquidation date, Century had approximately 5,000 service warranty contracts in force in Broward, Martin, Palm Beach, and St. Lucie counties.

Under the liquidation order, all service contracts written by Century are cancelled on November 12, 2010, unless otherwise terminated prior to that date.

For any other questions, consumers are directed to call the Department at 1-800-882-3054 or (850) 413-3081. Additional information regarding Century and the receivership process are available the Division of Rehab and Liquidation’s website at www.floridainsurancereceiver.org.


Are You Due an IRS Refund?

This week, the St. Petersburg Times reported that over 11,000 Florida taxpayers are due refund checks worth more than $19 million - and claiming the checks is as simple as going online.

Many checks were returned this year to the IRS because of mailing address errors; and with the holiday season approaching, it’s a perfect time to check and see if you have a refund check waiting for you! Florida taxpayers are encouraged to visit the IRS website, www.irs.gov, and click on “Where’s My Refund” to check to see if there is a refund waiting. If there is in fact a refund due to a taxpayer, the refund will be mailed once the proper mailing address is entered. Floridians without internet access can also call the agency toll-free at 1-800-829-1954 for instructions on how to update address information to access their refund.


Hurricane Checklist: Plan to Stay Connected

There are only a few weeks until the end of hurricane season, and most of us are breathing a sigh of relief because 2010 was a relatively mild hurricane season in Florida. However, our relief should not turn into complacency because we all know how quickly our luck can change and how powerful and devastating a storm can be.

Throughout hurricane season we have discussed preparing an emergency kit, planning for your pets, and planning what to do after the storm. But have you thought about having a plan for your cell phone?

Be sure you have a “Hurricane Phone." It's a good idea to have a wireless phone on hand and at least one corded, landline telephone that is not dependent on electricity in case of a power outage. Cordless telephones usually have receivers that are electrically charged, so they won't work if you lose your power.

Program all of your emergency contact numbers and e-mail addresses into your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station, hospital and your family members.

Keep your wireless phone batteries charged at all times. Have an alternative plan to recharge your battery in case of a power outage, such as charging your wireless device by using your car charger, or having extra mobile phone batteries or disposable mobile phone batteries on hand.

Keep your wireless phone dry. The biggest threat to your device during a storm is water, so keep your equipment safe from the elements by storing it in a baggie or some other type of protective covering.

Forward your home number to your wireless number in the event of an evacuation. Because call forwarding is based out of the telephone central office, you will get incoming calls from your landline phone even if your local telephone service is disrupted at your home. In the unlikely event that the central office is not operational, services such as voice mail, call forwarding, remote access call forwarding and call forwarding busy line/don't answer may be useful.

Use your wireless device to track the storm and access weather information. Many homes lose power during severe weather. If you have a wireless device that provides access to the Internet, you can watch weather reports through your mobile device. For more hurricane and disaster tips, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.

SOURCE: The AT&T Web site and updated (April 2009) Seasonal Forecast issued by Colorado State University forecasters Philip Klotzback and William Gray.

Florida Housing Help: Force-Placed Coverage Can Affect Your Wallet

Have you noticed your mortgage payment has increased, or have you received an expensive bill from your mortgage company stating it was for homeowners insurance? If so, you could be paying a lot of money for insurance through your lender that you could find much cheaper somewhere else.

If you allow your homeowners insurance policy to lapse or don’t pay your premium, your mortgage company may place your property into force-placed coverage.

A force-placed policy is purchased by the mortgage company to protect its interest in the outstanding loan. There is no coverage for adjacent structures, personal property, or additional living expense for the homeowner.

Also, the force-placed policy is normally in the name of the mortgage company. Sometimes the actual homeowner is added as an additional insured. However, it is the mortgage company’s policy and they have all rights as the insured, although the premium is charged to the homeowner.

This means if your home were to be destroyed by something like a fire or natural disaster, you wouldn’t receive any money from the insurance company for contents or to rebuild.

It pays to shop around for the best price on homeowners insurance and be sure to keep your existing policy in force.

Get more information on force-placed coverage on our website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com or by contacting our Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).


Safeguard Our Seniors: Considering Employment after Retirement?

Today’s economy has caused our older generation to either postpone retirement or return to the workforce, and more employers are finding ways to design job opportunities that encourage later-stage career employees to stay in the workforce or return past the traditional retirement age. Either way, both parties are on the same sheet of music. In the coming years the employers are likely to need older workers to supplement the workforce even more due to there not being enough younger workers available to fill openings from the boomers who decide to retire. Below are some helpful tips for seniors seeking employment:

1. Register with temp firms in your local area. These firms are interested in skills and experience. Also, if you get work through a temp firm it helps build your resume for future work assignments.

2. Practice your interviewing skills. You don't want to go to your first interview in a long time without having practiced first.

3. Consider having your resume rewritten or updated by an expert, because the resume you used years ago may be out of style.

4. Put your resume up on retirement job boards that connect older workers with employers seeking to hire them.

5. Look for project assignments that may be more readily available than full-time jobs.

6. Tell the employer you are willing to work on a project or a temporary basis. Temporary employment can often lead to full-time work if that’s what you’re looking to find.


My Family CFO: Take Advantage of Tax Credits When You Qualify

A tax credit reduces the taxes you owe by the dollar amount of the credit. Here are three useful credits to consider that might help reduce your 2010 tax bill if you qualify.

The Child and Dependent Care Credit covers expenses paid to care for your dependent children or disabled spouse so that you can work or look for work. The child must be your dependent, age 12 or younger. You may also claim adult daycare expenses for a dependent age 13 or older or a spouse if that person is physically or mentally unable to care for him/herself. Those who pay for eligible daycare expenses may be able to receive a federal tax credit from 20 to 35 percent of the cost of the care, depending on adjusted gross income. (IRS Publication 503 at irs.gov)

The Saver Credit is worth up to $1,000 ($2,000 for couples) for eligible low- and moderate-income workers who contribute to an IRA or a workplace retirement plan. (IRS Publication 590 at irs.gov)

The Home Energy Efficiency Improvement Tax Credit is for the cost of qualified energy-saving home improvements made this year. If you purchase an energy-efficient product or renewable energy system for your home, you may be eligible for this federal tax credit for 30 percent of cost up to $1,500. The energy efficiency items included for 2010 are biomass stoves; heating, ventilating, air conditioning (HVAC); insulation; roofs (metal and asphalt); water heaters (non-solar); windows and doors. (Find more details at energy.gov/taxbreaks.htm)

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