Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 4, Number 27, July 6, 2007

Dear Floridian:

The Department of Financial Services has approximately 300 fraud detectives and investigators who are committed to tracking down those who would prey on our citizens. Recently, one of our longtime insurance fraud detectives, Henry “Tommy” Clark in the Jacksonville office of the department’s Division of Insurance Fraud, received a letter of commendation from one of the nation’s top investigators, Robert S. Mueller III, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Director Mueller commended Clark for his work in a major workers’ compensation fraud case that has so far resulted in seven indictments. One of the men was ordered to serve 14 years in prison for his part in the scheme that investigators believe raked in more than $200 million in premiums for non-existent coverage.

In the letter, Director Mueller wrote, “My associates in Jacksonville have told me that you were the point of origin for the detection of this insurance fraud scheme and the authoritative source from which they relied upon before, during and after the implementation of the federal case.”

Clark has been with the division for more than 10 years and has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience. It is an honor to have someone of his caliber serving in this department, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him again for his hard work on this and his many other cases. His dedication to his work is truly an inspiration to us all.


Sincerely,

--Alex Sink

Read the Letter of Commendation from FBI Director Robert Mueller.


CFO SINK DELIVERS NEARLY $5,000 CHECK FROM THE MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM TO PENSACOLA RESIDENT
Sink urging more Panhandle Floridians to sign up at www.MySafeFloridaHome.com

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink personally delivered a matching grant reimbursement for $4,942.57 to a Pensacola homeowner who hardened his home through the state’s My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program.

“Hardening your home is the best way to protect your family, reduce the state’s exposure to hurricane damage and potentially result in savings on homeowners’ wind premiums,” said CFO Sink who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “I encourage more Floridians to follow Mr. Dill’s lead and sign up for their free wind inspections through the My Safe Florida Home program.”

John Dill, a 67-year-old military retiree of Pensacola, received a grant reimbursement Friday after hardening his home’s opening protections. After having his home inspected by a MSFH program-approved inspector in February, Dill received an inspection report indicating that adding accordion style shutters to six of his doorways would help harden his home to hurricanes. After making the improvements through a program approved contractor for nearly $10,000, Dill was reimbursed by the state for half the cost of improvements, a total of $ $4,942.57.

The MSFH program resumed offering wind inspections and expanded statewide after conducting a pilot program during the previous year. Since April 2007, the MSFH program has performed nearly 46,000 free wind inspections. From the 14,289 homes inspected during the program’s original pilot phase, 5,839 homeowners are eligible for matching grants and are working with the MSFH program to harden their homes. Statewide, the program has issued a grand total of $1,032,180 to 362 homeowners who have completed the improvements recommended in their inspection reports.

Currently, 133 homeowners in Escambia County, 64 homeowners in Santa Rosa County and 8 homeowners in Walton County are hardening their homes through the MSFH program. These homeowners are being reimbursed for half the cost, up to $5,000, on a variety of home improvements, including hurricane shutters, reinforced garage doors and roof enhancements.

MSFH also partners with the Volunteer Florida Foundation (VFF) to provide mitigation, at no cost, to the homes of lower-income Floridians (those earning 80 percent or less than the Annual Median Income- $42,000 for a family of four in Escambia County). To date, VFF has completed work on 303 homes, and 175 of those homes are located in Escambia County. Another 611 low-income homeowners are currently working on hardening their homes through this program, and of those homeowners, 77 are from Escambia County.

Any Floridian who lives in a single-family, site-built home is eligible for a free wind inspection through the program. Floridians can apply on-line at www.MySafeFloridaHome.com or by calling the program toll-free at 1-866-513-6734. Homeowners who receive free wind inspections through the MSFH program will receive a detailed inspection report, complete with additional eligibility information on matching grants and estimated insurance premium discounts, if the homeowner is eligible.

In order to be eligible for the program’s matching grant reimbursements of up to $5,000, the Legislature requires that homeowners meet the following requirements: have received a completed wind inspection after May 1, 2007; live in a single-family, site-built home built before March 1, 2002; have a valid homestead exemption; have an insured value of $300,000 or less; and be located in the wind-borne debris region.


CFO'S VISIT TO WASHINGTON, D.C.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to meet with members of the Florida Delegation. The CFO discussed potential methods so that Florida could receive federal assistance in the event of a natural disaster, including a national catastrophe fund. CFO Sink also expressed her commitment to improving KidCare in Florida and encouraged members of the delegation to reauthorize federal funding for children's health care for our state.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson hosted a reception for CFO Sink at Florida House with members of the Florida Delegation and staff.


CFO SINK ORDERS 50 PERCENT REDUCTION IN WORKERS’ COMP ADMIN TRUST FUND ASSESSMENT RATE  

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink ordered a 50 percent cut in the 2008 Workers’ Compensation Administration Trust Fund assessment rate.  This reduction is projected to result in as much as $19 million in savings that can be passed on to Florida employers. 

“During the past five years, Florida’s healthy workers’ compensation system has led to the addition of 28 new carriers writing workers’ compensation in our state,” said CFO Sink.  “A strong economy and tougher compliance efforts have generated significant premium growth, making these reductions to the workers’ compensation trust fund assessment rate possible.” 

Florida law requires an annual review of assessments that workers’ compensation carriers and self-insurers pay into the Workers’ Compensation Administration Trust Fund (WCATF) to administer the state’s workers’ compensation system.  The fund pays for the operation of the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Workers’ Compensation.  Other programs funded through the WCATF include the Division of Insurance Fraud’s workers’ compensation enforcement activities, the Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims, Medical Services administered by the Agency for Health Care Administration, Vocational Rehabilitation administered by the Department of Education, and Child Labor regulation administered by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. 

CFO Sink’s order requires an assessment rate reduction from .50 percent to .25 percent of assessable workers’ compensation premiums.  Statute requires that this change be reflected in the next workers’ compensation rate filings approved by the Office of Insurance Regulation after January 1, 2008.  The assessment rate has dropped dramatically since 2002 when it was 2.56 percent.  

Since the Legislature passed significant reforms in 2003, Florida’s workers’ compensation rates -- what carriers charge employers -- have dropped a cumulative 40 percent.  Those Florida employers that are required to secure workers’ compensation coverage for their employees have saved hundreds of millions of dollars on their premiums since 2003.   Meanwhile, thousands more workers are now covered under the system and the average penalty assessed against non-compliant employers has risen from $7,500 to nearly $26,000, stimulating greater compliance.


MELBOURNE/PALM BAY AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE WELCOMES CFO SINK

CFO Alex Sink spoke to the Melbourne-Palm Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, advocating a federal catastrophe fund that would help stabilize Florida's reeling insurance market. In a recent visit to Washington, D.C., CFO Sink spoke with members of Congress on the issue. The House of Representatives is more willing than the Senate to set up the fund, she said.

To read more about it in Florida Today, click here.


BANKER OBDULIO PIEDRA ELECTED CHAIR OF FINANCIAL LITERACY COUNCIL

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the election of Obdulio Piedra as chair of the Financial Literacy Council. As Market President of Great Florida Bank in Miami, Piedra has extensive experience in financial matters and is focused on helping Floridians make better financial decisions.

“Obdulio Piedra will serve the people of Florida well as chairman of the state’s Financial Literacy Council,” said CFO Sink who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “His experience as bank president will assist the council in identifying ways in which the state can better inform and assist Floridians about their finances.”

The Financial Literacy Council held its first meeting in Tallahassee on June 25, 2007. Authorized in 2006 by House Bill 825, the council was created to study the financial problems that affect consumers, particularly young people, seniors, working adults and small business owners, which arise from a lack of basic knowledge of financial issues. The council will also develop recommendations and raise funds to develop programs and resources aimed at increasing financial literacy among Floridians.

CFO Sink will use the Financial Literacy Council to help educate Floridians about important financial issues, such as avoiding excessive debt, the importance of saving, making sound investment decisions and planning for retirement. Recent news reports illustrate that American consumers are living paycheck to paycheck and spending every dollar they earn. In fact, the U.S. government recently calculated consumer savings at the lowest levels since the Great Depression. In essence, too many consumers are spending more than they earn.

For more information on the Financial Literacy Council, please visit www.myfloridamoney.com.


HARDEE COUNTY GREETS CFO SINK

On Wednesday, June 27th, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink visited Wauchula in Hardee County to speak with elected officials, including Sheriff J. Loran Cogburn,  Supervisor of Elections Jeff Ussery, County Manager Lex Albritton, Chamber of Commerce President Jama Abbott and Fire Chief Michael Choate.

CFO Sink met with local officials to discuss issues important to Hardee county residents including the recently passed property tax legislation, unclaimed property, state fire issues and more.


PREPARE FOR A HURRICANE EXPO

Why not attend a hurricane expo? It is worth the time to learn the steps necessary to prepare for possible windstorms in your area.

Experts gather together in one location to present innovative and valuable information on the many facets of hurricane preparedness.

The Treasure Coast Square Mall planned its 2007 Hurricane Expo well in advance, never anticipating that the Treasure Coast would feel the effects of Tropical Storm Barry that weekend. Several inches of rain fell but many residents decided it was worth the effort to attend the exposition. Bags of information about hurricane preparation and samples from companies touting their storm products were available, along with demonstrations and door prizes. Attendees met and listened to local TV newscasters and meteorologists discuss storm forecasting.

A Florida Department of Financial Services specialist talked about participation in the “My Safe Florida Home” wind inspection and matching grant program. Residents noted that they have received their wind inspections and were anticipating the arrival of  their inspection reports. These reports will not only detail ways to further fortify their homes against windstorm damage but also outline potential hurricane insurance premium savings.

When hardening your home, a first line of defense would be storm shutters and fortified garage doors and the expo had plenty on display.

Government emergency management officials from state, county and local consumer service agencies were available to answer questions. The Red Cross was recruiting volunteers to provide aid in the event of a disaster.

Emphasis was given on the importance of making emergency plans for your pets' safety in case of evacuation - even if your pet is a horse!

Find a hurricane expo near you on the FLDFS Web site at
http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Consumers/ConsumerOutReach/eventsbycategory.asp.

The current list of upcoming hurricane preparedness events is posted below and additional events for 2007 are being planned.

Hope to see you there!

UPCOMING HURRICANE EXPO SCHEDULE

07/12/2007
  Habitat for Humanity/UNF Hurricane Preparedness - North East Florida
   6:00 PM
  University North Florida
 
Are you ready?  Focused on financial and insurance matters before and after a disaster strike.  DFS will also provide additional resources in the event of a natural disaster.  Call Kim Nole for more info at 904-626-9120.
Kim Nole
904-626-9120
 
07/14/2007
  Hardening your home against hurricanes - Miami-Dade
   8:00 AM
  North Miami Beach Home Depot #251
1245 NE 163 Street
Fair/Expo. event, Open to the public   
Javier Fernandez
305-940-6503
 
07/18/2007
  Hurricane Preparedness - North East Florida
   2:00 PM
  Cathedral Towers
601 N Newnan St.,  Jacksonville
Are you ready?  Focusing on financial and insurance matters before and after a disaster strike.  Also, providing additional resources in the event of a natural disaster.  July 18th, 2:00pm, at Cathedral Towers, 601 N Newnan St, Jacksonville.  Contact Linda White ,
(904) 798-5357
 
 
07/23/2007
  First Time Homeowner's Workshop - Hurricane Preparedness - North East Florida
   6:00 PM
  Habitat for Humanity
2404 Hubbard Street Jacksonville
Are you ready?  Focusing on financial and insurance matters before and after a disaster strike.  DFS will also provide additional resources in the event of a natural disaster.  July 23rd, 6:00pm, Habitat for Humanity, 2404 Hubbard St, Jax.  Contact Ana McDonald, 904-798-4529 x247.
 
08/08/2007
  First Time Homeowner's Workshop - Hurricane Preparedness - North East Florida
   9:00 AM
  Habitat for Humanity
2404 Hubbard Street Jacksonville
Are you ready?  Focusing on insurance and financial matters before and after a disaster strike.  DFS will also provide additional resources in the event of a natural disaster.  Aug 8th, 9:00am, 2404 Hubbard Street, Jacksonville.  Contact Ana McDonald  904-798-4529 x247
 
08/09/2007
  NW Citizens Planning Advisory Committee - North East Florida
   6:00 PM
  Moncrief Senior Center
5710 Castellano Ave Jacksonville
Are you ready?  Focusing on insurance and financial matters before and after a disaster strike.  DFS will also provide additional resources in the event of a natural disaster.  August 9th, 6:00pm, @ the Moncrief Senior Center, 5710 Castellano Ave, Jacksonville.  Contact Marilyn Harmer 904-630-7024.
 
08/11/2007
  SHADCO Safety Fair - North East Florida
   10:00 AM
  Avenues Mall
10300 Southside Blvd., Jacksonville
Are you ready?  DFS will have a booth set up at the SHADCO Safety Fair, Aug 11th, at the Avenues Mall from 10:00am - 2:00pm.  We are focusing on insurance and financial matters before and after a disaster strike.  Also, providing additional resources in the event of a natural disaster. Contact Betty Bates, 904-923-6987
 
08/24/2007
  Resources To Create, Maintain, and Grow Your Business - South West Florida
   8:30 AM
  Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club
851 Gulfshore Blvd. N., Naples
Small Business Seminar-
Economic Development Council of Collier Co.
Widespread Technologies,LLC
Dept. of Financial Services and Insurance
~OPEN TO THE PUBLIC~
Economic Development Council of Collier Co.
(239) 263-8989 Ext. 111
 
08/27/2007
  First Time Homeowner's Workshop - Hurricane Preparedness - North East Florida
   6:00 PM
  Habitat for Humanity
2404 Hubbard Street Jacksonville
Are you ready?  Focusing on insurance and financial matters before and after a disaster strike.  DFS will provide additional resources in the event of a natural disaster.  August 27th, 6:00pm, 2404 Hubbard St, Jacksonville.  Contact Ana McDonald 798-4529 x247

Ana McDonald
904-798-4529 x247
 
09/24/2007
  First Time Homeowner's Workshop - Hurricane Preparedness - North East Florida
  Habitat for Humanity
2404 Hubbard Street Jacksonville
Are you ready?  Focusing on insurance and financial matters before and after a disaster strike.  DFS will also provide additional resources in the event of a natural disaster.  Sept 24th, 6:00pm, 2404 Hubbard Street, Jacksonville.  Contact Ana McDonald 904-798-4529 x247
 

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