Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 3, Number 21, May 22, 2006

On May 5, 2006, the Florida Legislature approved legislation that directs the Florida Department of Financial Services to create a new program to help Floridians strengthen their homes against hurricanes and to reduce hurricane exposure in our state.

The “Florida Comprehensive Hurricane Damage Mitigation Program” will offer free home inspections and matching grants up to $5,000 for specific home improvements to qualified homeowners. As required by the new law, our department must take certain steps before the program can be implemented and before homeowners can apply for inspections and grants.

This new program, signed into law on May 16, offers an unprecedented opportunity to help thousands of Floridians better protect themselves and their families against hurricanes. The program will be a massive undertaking but is a priority for our agency to have up and running as quickly as possible.

Please take a few minutes to visit the website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com, click on the top button in the right column, read through the topics and sign up to receive more information as it becomes available.

We appreciate your interest and look forward to serving you.


-- Tom Gallagher


INSURANCE RELIEF BILL STEP IN RIGHT DIRECTION

$1.2 billion set aside to help reduce premiums, hurricane-proof homes

After two years of intense lobbying by Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and other consumer advocates, the Florida Legislature this year approved $1.2 billion to help ease the impact of rising property insurance rates caused by two unprecedented hurricane seasons.

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, issued the following statement after Governor Jeb Bush signed the legislation into law:

“The Legislature was given a very complex and difficult task. After eight hurricanes inflicting $30 billion of insured losses, there were no easy solutions,” said Gallagher. “The bi-partisan legislation is a step in the right direction, and it accomplishes two goals that I have been fighting for since 2004. First, we’re giving a billion dollars back in tax relief to help Floridians deal with rising insurance costs and prepare for future storms. Second, the new law will help stabilize the market by attracting new companies and offer alternatives to the insurer of last resort.

“Our priority must now be preparing Floridians for the upcoming storm season. All the changes made to our insurance market will mean little if Floridians don’t take the time to prepare.

“To help Floridians prepare for storms, my goal is to get the hurricane damage mitigation program started as quickly as possible. It will be a massive undertaking but it is an unprecedented opportunity to help thousands of Floridians get their homes hurricane-ready and save money on their insurance premiums.”

The property insurance bill signed by Governor Bush today was sponsored by Sen. Rudy Garcia and Rep. Dennis Ross. It includes $715 million in insurance rate relief for Florida’s property owners and $250 million to help Floridians strengthen their homes to better withstand hurricanes. It also institutes important reforms at Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, including a $1 million cap on properties it covers, and requires uniform building codes to be implemented statewide.


CFO GALLAGHER ON SCRIPPS FLORIDA

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher helped Scripps Florida, a state-of-the-art biomedical research institute, move one step closer to becoming a reality. As a member of the Florida Cabinet, Gallagher approved putting Scripps Florida on the Jupiter campus of Florida Atlantic University (FAU).

“Scripps Florida is a monumental step toward diversifying our state’s economy and creating high-wage, high-tech jobs,” said Gallagher. “Now we need to concentrate our efforts on graduating Florida students who are qualified and ready to take advantage of the opportunities that Scripps Florida has to offer.”

The governor and Cabinet approved a new 99-year lease for FAU and 99-year sublease to establish Scripps Florida on the FAU campus, which is state-owned land. The governor and Cabinet serve as trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, which holds title to the 30 acres on which Scripps Florida will operate.

In November 2003, Florida approved an investment of $310 million from federal economic development stimulus dollars to facilitate the start-up and operation of Scripps Florida to enhance biomedical education, research and technology, and to promote economic development and diversity in Florida.


BE PREPARED:  HAVE A STORM PLAN FOR YOUR BUSINESS

A hurricane is just one of many natural disasters that business owners must prepare for.

In creating your business's natural disaster preparedness plan, owners must first conduct a self-assessment of their business. They need to ask themselves such questions as:

1. Have I determined what parts of my business need to be operational as soon as possible following a disaster, and plan how to resume those operations?

2. Do we have a disaster plan in place to help ensure the safety of each staff person until help can arrive?

3. Are we prepared to stay open for business if our suppliers cannot deliver, our markets are inaccessible, or basic needs (e.g. water, sewer, electricity, transportation) are not available?

In creating your business self-assessment questionnaire, talk to your company's financial institution, insurance company and local public officials about continuation of operations planning.

After completing and analyzing your self-assessment, you will be better prepared to create a plan that will allow you to resume essential business operations as soon as possible. You should consider three subjects in building your business continuity plan:

1. Human resources

2. Physical resources

3. Business continuity

Here are several ideas to help you start your plan.

Employee contacts

• An employee list, including yourself. Include information such as phone numbers, address and person to contact in case of an emergency.

• Communication setup: Create a company phone list and give it to key members of your staff

• If you have a voice mail system, designate one remote number on which you can record messages for your employees. Then provide this number to all employees.

• Employee transportation — after the disaster, how will they get to you? Is there public transportation available?

• Employee payroll — how will you get their pay to them?

• Where can employees find help for housing? food? medical services?

• Child care for employee's children.

Suppliers and vendors

This list will be needed to contact your suppliers and vendors with post-disaster information. You should know and have a commitment from alternate suppliers in case your main suppliers are affected as well.

Administration function

• This list includes your banks, creditors, insurance companies and accountant.
• Emergency phone numbers, such as police, fire and rescue, and utilities.

• A list of government agencies and their phone numbers that can help you, such as the Department of Financial Services, county Economic Development Office, FEMA and Red Cross, to name a few.

• List time-sensitive functions — bills due, insurance claims filing and follow-up, state and federal assistance plans, payroll.

Business function

As owner, you need to decide which parts of your business function are critical to your survival and outline the details of each function. You will need to prioritize these functions into high, medium or low. Example: If the holder of office keys and alarm codes cannot get to the company, is there a backup person with this information?
Recovery Location

Who will make the decision to move to a prearranged site, such as another branch office, pre-contracted location. Who is in charge of the setup process? Do they have funds available to purchase supplies and equipment as needed?

Conclusion

This is not a comprehensive list. Communication and computers, for instance, were not addressed due to space constraints.

Every business, like your home, requires a disaster toolbox for stocking items that will be needed in an emergency. These should include a NOAA Weather alert radio, AM/FM radio, first-aid kits, flashlights, bottled water, nonperishable food, paper supplies, blankets, camera(s) and cash.

Once you have completed your plan, remember to store it in a safe environment.

The Florida Department of Financial Services provides hurricane information on our Web site, www.MyFloridaCFO.com.

Whenever a tropical storm or hurricane takes aim at our state, Florida's chief financial officer, Tom Gallagher, activates a special consumer help line through which you can seek assistance on any insurance matter. The number is 1-800-22-STORM (1-800-227-8676).


 UNCLAIMED PROPERTY AUCTIONS PLANNED FOR SUMMER

Department continues to pro-actively search for owners and heirs

Two auctions have been scheduled for this summer in Jacksonville and Tampa to sell an overflow of jewelry, collectibles and historical items that are fast filling up the state’s unclaimed property vault.

The auctions will be held July 14-15 in Jacksonville and August 25-26 in Tampa, with proceeds from the auctions to go to Florida’s public schools. For more information, visit www.fltreasurehunt.com and click on auction.

Since 2003, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services, Bureau of Unclaimed Property, has returned nearly $300 million in cash and property to current or former Floridians. That’s about one-third of all of the cash and property returned since the program’s inception in 1961. The department is currently holding unclaimed property valued at more than $1 billion.

“In the fast pace of modern life, it is easy to forget to collect a last paycheck, close a bank account, or get a utility deposit back,” Gallagher said. “But we’ve made it just as easy to find it. With the click of the mouse or a phone call you might find lost treasure.”

Owners or heirs can claim their cash or property for free by logging on to www.fltreasurehunt.org or by calling 1-88-VALUABLE (1-888-258-2253.)

Most of the property comes from dormant accounts in financial institutions, deposits paid to utility companies, insurance premium refunds, un-cashed payroll checks and trust holdings. In addition to cash and securities, the state’s holdings include property such as watches, jewelry, coins, stamps and historical items that are delivered from abandoned safe deposit boxes.

When the owner or heirs cannot be found, unclaimed cash and proceeds from the auction of unclaimed property are deposited into the State School Trust Fund, although the money always remains available for the owners or heirs to claim.

To supplement its efforts to locate owners, the department has teamed up with several news organizations, including Telemundo, WTVJ and Dateline NBC, and many newspapers, to help bring attention to the program. Monday night, May 22, a team of unclaimed property specialists will be in the studio of WESH-TV in Orlando taking calls live during the evening news broadcast.

“It is our mission to find the owners or heirs and return this property to them,” Gallagher said. “In many of these cases, we are returning money or property to people who really need it. It comes at a time that makes a real financial difference for them.”


HURRICANE TAX HOLIDAY IS UNDER WAY

It is time to get ready for hurricane season and, now through June 1 when the season begins, you can buy many of the supplies you need tax free.

The Legislature implemented the 12-day Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday to encourage Floridians to stock up on hurricane supplies such as batteries, flashlights, generators and storm shutters.  The holiday is projected to save Floridians an estimated $41 million during the holiday. 

“It is imperative that homeowners finalize their preparations for what is predicted to be another active storm season,” said Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer.  “The more you prepare now, the better protected your home and family will be if a storm affects your community.”

Florida has been devastated by eight hurricanes in the past two years that left $30 billion worth of damage.  This year, forecasters predict as many as 15 named storms with possibly six reaching category 3 or higher, but a recent Mason-Dixon poll of coastal residents indicates Floridians may not be prepared.

The poll revealed that 60 percent of coastal residents do not have a family disaster place in place, and more than two-thirds of those residents do not have hurricane survival kits. Even more staggering, pollsters said, is that 83 percent of coastal residents have not taken steps to make their homes stronger.

”Many Floridians will be motivated by memories of the past two years and take steps to better prepare,” Gallagher said.   “For others, perhaps the hurricane tax holiday will provide the incentive to take the upcoming hurricane season more seriously.”

For more information on how to prepare for hurricane season, visit the department’s website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click on the “Hurricane 2006” button on the right.

There are some price limitations, but items that qualify for the tax exemption include:

  • Blue ice or items sold as artificial ice.
  • Portable self-powered light sources: battery-powered flashlights, battery-powered lanterns, gas-powered lanterns (including propane, kerosene, lamp oil, or similar fuel), Tiki-type torches and candles (which should be used sparingly in a storm)
  • Gas or diesel fuel container (including LP gas and kerosene containers)
  • Batteries, including rechargeable (listed sizes only) - AAA-cell, AA-cell, C-cell, D-cell, 6-volt (excluding automobile and boat batteries), 9-volt (excluding automobile and boat batteries)
  • Coolers (food-storage; non-electrical)
  • Ice chests (food-storage; non-electrical)
  • Cell phone chargers
  • Radios (self-powered or battery-powered), two-way radios (self-powered or battery-powered)l weather band radios (self-powered or battery-powered)
  • Tarpaulins (tarps) Visqueen, plastic sheeting, plastic drop cloths, and other flexible waterproof sheeting
  • Ground anchor systems: tie-down kits (items that are advertised or normally sold as a tie-down or anchoring kit), Bungee cords, Ratchet straps
  • Cell phone batteries
  • Carbon monoxide detectors:  
  • Storm shutter devices (defined as materials and products specifically manufactured, rated and marketed for the purpose of preventing window damage from storms)
  • Portable generators that will be used to provide light, communications or to preserve perishable food in the event of a power outage.
  • Any package consisting of two or more of the previously listed qualifying hurricane-preparedness items sold for $75 or less will qualify for the exemption. Any package consisting of one or more of the previously listed hurricane-preparedness items and at least one other item that is otherwise tax-exempt and the package is sold for $75 or less will qualify for the exemption.

Consumer Services HelpLine (800) 342-2762