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

Volume 3, Number 35, August 28, 2006

Preparedness is paramount to safety when a hurricane threatens.

Governor Bush and I are urging Floridians to secure their property, have supplies such as food and water for at least 72 hours, and evacuate if necessary.

My hope is that residents in the Keys and those in mobile homes or in flood-prone areas have already taken steps to successfully evacuate.

Following a storm, my first goal is to ensure your safety. As State Fire Marshal, I help coordinate search and rescue efforts.

We deploy teams from our State Fire Marshal’s Office to help stranded or wounded Floridians and help clear roadways of debris.

We also mobilize our sworn law enforcement with the Division of Insurance Fraud to assist law enforcement efforts in preventing looting, price gouging and other scams.

Some things you can do to protect yourself include:

  • If you use a generator for power, remember to keep it outside and in a well-ventilated area because generators produce carbon monoxide.

  • Beware of downed power lines, especially near water – to avoid risk of electrocution.

  • If your house is damaged, shut electricity off at the breakers.

  • Never drive through floodwaters or on flooded roads. If your vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and seek higher ground. Water only two feet deep can sweep away most cars.

I will also be dispatching our consumer response teams to impacted areas to assist with insurance claims and get money for additional living expenses.

We are here to serve and we are here to help.

Godspeed,

-- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER URGES FLORIDIANS TO PREPARE FOR ERNESTO 

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer and state fire marshal, is urging residents and visitors throughout Florida to stay alert to news regarding the path of Tropical Storm Ernesto and to complete hurricane preparations.

“Our state’s experience over the past two years has highlighted the urgency and importance of being prepared,” Gallagher said.  “Take steps now to make sure your family and your home are ready.”

In the event of heavy storm damage, Gallagher will oversee the fire and rescue operations at the state’s Emergency Operations Center and deployment of staff to assist with rescue and recovery.  

The Department of Financial Services’ storm hotline, 1-800-22STORM, can assist residents in preparing for a storm as well as dealing with damage after a storm.  In addition, the department’s website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com contains a wealth of information to assist consumers in getting ready for a storm and dealing with the potential aftermath.  The website includes a Hurricane Toolkit, an Insurance Checklist, and answers to common insurance questions.

Gallagher recommends property owners take these actions before a storm:

• Monitor news for storm information and evacuation orders.
• Buy the materials you need to secure your property and minimize your losses.  Cover your windows with shutters, siding or plywood.  Move vehicles into a garage or carport when possible.  Grills and/or patio furniture should be secured or moved inside.
• Keep materials such as plywood and plastic on hand in case you need to make temporary repairs after a storm.  Keep receipts for those repairs so that your insurance company can reimburse you.
• Inventory your household items, including receipts, purchase dates and serial numbers.  Photograph or videotape your possessions.  Keep copies of this information and your insurance policies in a safe place and keep the originals in a safe deposit box.
• Write down the name, address and claims-reporting telephone number of your insurance company, which may differ from your agent’s contact information.  Keep this information in a safe place and make sure you have access to it if you are forced to evacuate your home.
• Be sure you know what your deductible is for hurricane losses. 

In the event of damage, Gallagher recommends that you: 

• Never use a generator indoors or in any enclosed area including a garage, carport or sunroom.
• Avoid using candles and do not use a candle or lantern near a generator or stored fuel.
• Make emergency repairs to protect from further damage, document the damage and repairs in writing, and with receipts and photos.
• Immediately report property damage to your insurance agent and company.
• Maintain copies of your household inventory and other documentation, including photos.  This will assist the adjuster in assessing the value of the destroyed property.
• Take precautions if the damage requires you to leave your home.  Let your agent or insurance company know your temporary forwarding address and phone number.
• Beware of fly-by-night repair businesses. Hire licensed and reputable service people.
• If considering the assistance of a public insurance adjuster, verify that they are licensed by calling the department’s storm hotline at 1-800-22-STORM.
• Be sure you understand how much a public insurance adjuster is charging and what services are included before signing any contract.

For more hurricane preparation tips, visit the Department of Financial Services’ web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com, and click on Hurricane Season 2006. 

“Preparedness is the best defense – both for the storm and the aftermath that could lure unlicensed adjusters and scam artists,” Gallagher said.  “But more important is to heed any evacuation orders – nothing is more important than your and your family’s safety.”

Hurricane season continues until November 30.


$20 MILLION THROUGH MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM NOW AVAILABLE TO NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS
Funds Are to Help Low-Income Floridians Strengthen Their Homes against Hurricanes

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund are inviting non-profit organizations to help low-income Floridians strengthen their homes against natural disasters through the new My Safe Florida Home program.  The program has been developed by Gallagher’s office to help homes better withstand hurricane damage and keep families safer.

The Volunteer Florida Foundation, which administers the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund, is partnering with Gallagher’s office to distribute up to $20 million to non-profit organizations to retrofit low-income homes in eight counties, including Broward, Escambia, Lee, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Sarasota and Volusia. Through non-profit organizations participating in the program, qualifying low-income Floridians will be eligible for a free home inspection and financial assistance to strengthen their homes. 

“Partnering with faith- and community-based groups to help fortify low-income homes in Florida is mission critical to protecting families and reducing property losses,” said Gallagher, who oversees the My Safe Florida Home program. “Through these partnerships, we will be able to leverage resources and help thousands of Floridians before the end of this hurricane season.”

Interested non-profit organizations can get involved by responding to Volunteer Florida’s request for proposal posted at www.FLAHurricaneFund.org.  The deadline for non-profit organizations to submit proposals for helping low-income homeowners fortify their houses is Wednesday, September 6, 2006. 

“In our long-term recovery work following the last two hurricane seasons, we at the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund have learned the enormous value of partnering with community and faith-based groups, organizations that know their communities and are effective partners in accomplishing important tasks,” said Liza McFadden, President of the Volunteer Florida Foundation. “We are honored to expand our role to include mitigation work with the Department of Financial Services to ensure Florida’s low-income residents get the help they need to strengthen their homes.”

Funding for the non-profit program is possible because of a $250 million appropriation by the Florida Legislature during the 2006 Session to create the Florida Comprehensive Hurricane Damage Mitigation Program.  The program has been coined the My Safe Florida Home Program and was announced by Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and the Florida Department of Financial Services last week.   The Department of Financial Services designated the Volunteer Florida Foundation this week to administer the low-income portion of the program through its Florida Hurricane Relief Fund.

For more information on the overall mitigation program, go to www.MySafeFloridaHome.com. For more information on the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund, go to www.FLAHurricaneFund.org.


GOVERNOR BUSH REWARDS ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE WITH $157.6 MILLION TO HIGH-PERFORMING SCHOOLS

Nearly 1,800 schools statewide receive school recognition funding

Governor Jeb Bush and state education leaders today announced $157.6 million in funding to 1,799 Florida schools in recognition of academic achievement and improvement during the 2005-2006 school year – more than five times the number of schools and funding first rewarded in 1999. As part of the A+ School Recognition Program, schools that achieve an “A” based on the school grading criteria or improve at least one grade from the previous year, are awarded $100 per student. Since 1999, Florida has awarded more than $852.7 million in school recognition funding.

“Today, we reward the tireless efforts of students, parents, and educators who are committed to achieving academic success,” said Governor Bush. “When the standards for success are set high, we begin to fully recognize what our students can accomplish.” 

Governor Bush marked the announcement by presenting checks to Webb Middle School in Tampa and Sadler Elementary in Orlando. Both schools received recognition funds for academic success. Education Commissioner John L. Winn, K-12 Public Schools Chancellor Cheri Pierson Yecke, Ph.D., State Board of Education Vice Chair T. Willard Fair and State Board of Education Members Donna Callaway, Phoebe Raulerson and Kathleen Shanahan also visited schools throughout the state to honor their achievement.

Recognition funds are allocated based on a joint decision by a school-appointed committee of teachers and administrators. Funds can be used by a school to purchase one-time faculty incentives such as educational equipment, new technology, staff bonuses, or hiring temporary personnel to assist in maintaining and improving student performance.

Florida schools earned a record number of “A” and “B” grades in 2006 – more than any previous year. Since 1999, when the A+ Plan for Education was implemented, schools have improved from only 515 schools earning an “A” or “B” to 2,077 schools in 2006 – four times the number of high-performing schools seven years ago and 234 more than last year (up from 1,843). Three of every four Florida schools were considered high performing in 2006. At the same time, the number of failing schools is on the decline, down to a fourth of the number of failing schools in 1999. This year, there are 142 “D” and “F” schools compared to 677 schools seven years ago.

A++ Plan for Education
This year, the Florida Legislature approved Governor Bush’s A++ Plan for Education to increase the rigor and relevance of Florida’s middle and high schools. Middle school students will now be required to complete 12 core academic courses (three each in English, math, science and social studies), as well as one course in career and education planning, in order to be promoted to high school. High school students are now required to complete an additional math credit for graduation and choose a major area of interest. These measures will better prepare students for postsecondary education and the workforce.

Education Funding
Under the leadership of Governor Bush, funding for education has increased 69 percent or $7.7 billion, providing millions of Florida’s students with a high-quality education. Governor Bush implemented higher standards and developed an accountably system that has made a positive impact on improving student learning.

Assistance Plus
For Florida’s struggling schools, the Assistance Plus program provides funding, resources and support to address areas of weakness. In addition, failing schools receive school improvement facilitators, reading coaches, technical assistance and assessments to monitor student progress. Schools that have repeatedly failed will be required to take immediate action to show improvement. In May, the State Board of Education approved measures that require schools districts to take bold action to turn failing schools around, such as restructuring the grade configuration of the school and implementing new research-based curriculum programs. The Assistance Plus program will help these schools achieve these goals.

To view a list of schools receiving recognition funding and amounts visit www.firn.edu/doe/evaluation/schrmain.htm.


PALM BEACH COUNTY MAN CHARGED WITH THEFT OF MONEY BELONGING TO ASSISTED LIVING FACILITY

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced today that a Palm Beach County man is facing felony charges for allegedly taking money that should have gone toward the operation of a West Palm Beach assisted living facility. The arrest stems from an investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ Office of Fiscal Integrity.

Thomas Edward Kinsey, 63, surrendered on August 18 to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office on the charges of grand theft, second-degree, and filing a fraudulent claim for unclaimed property, a third-degree felony. He was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail and released after posting a $5,000 bond. If convicted on the charges, Kinsey faces up to 20 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

“Our investigators determined this individual took money that should have gone toward the care of medically needy senior citizens,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “That is despicable, and I commend our investigators for their diligent work in this case.”

Kinsey allegedly filed a claim in excess of $4,500 for unclaimed property belonging to the Mangonia Residence Apartments, an assisted living facility located on Australian Avenue, West Palm Beach. According to court documents, Kinsey lost control of the facility in November 1998 following a legal battle with his then-business partners. Over the course of several years after his ouster from the project, investigators said Kinsey continued to receive commission checks from laundry room vendors doing business with the Mangonia Residence Apartments and ultimately deposited more than $17,000 belonging to Mangonia Residence Apartments into personal bank accounts in his and his spouse’s name.

Kinsey is already facing trial for his previous arrest in May 2004 for the grand theft of $500,000 in grant funds he received to build an assisted living facility project he was developing on Haverhill Road in West Palm Beach. That case was also investigated by the Office of Fiscal Integrity.


Consumer Services HelpLine (800) 342-2762

Consumer eViews     http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/PressOffice/Newsletter/