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

Volume 4, Number 28, July 16, 2007

Dear Floridian:

Scientists have observed that our changing climate will impact many aspects of life and business in Florida and across the world. From increased hurricane intensity to rising sea levels, it is essential that we gain a better understanding about the effects of climate change if we are to meet these new challenges.

Over the past six months, your state leaders have begun to consider the impacts and opportunities presented by climate change:

  • Cabinet Workshops-- In April, Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson and I began hosting a series of Cabinet workshops on the science of climate change, which you can learn more about at www.FloridaClimateChange.com. Following our first workshop, as the state’s Chief Financial Officer, I joined the Investor Network of Climate Risk (INCR). A few months later, our state’s pension fund (managed by the State Board of Administration) joined the INCR as well. You can read about the INCR at www.incr.com.
     

  • Climate Change Summit-- Last week, Florida Governor Charlie Crist held a highly-successful two-day summit on climate change in Miami, with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as a featured speaker. The governor issued a number of executive orders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the state, including Florida’s state government, and to create the Governor’s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change. I encourage you to learn more about the governor’s initiatives at www.MyFloridaClimate.com.
     

  • Farm to Fuel Initiative-- Commissioner Bronson is continuing his Farm to Fuel initiative this week from July 18 to 20, 2007 in St. Petersburg. Thursday morning, I will be speaking at the Farm to Fuel Summit about the positive economic impact of increasing Florida’s production of renewable energy sources and expanding agri-business in our state. You can read about Commissioner Bronson’s Farm to Fuel initiative and the upcoming summit at www.FloridaFarmtoFuel.com.

By working together, we can reduce the risks of climate change and capitalize on new economic opportunities and growing industries. I encourage you to learn more about the initiatives about and help Florida go green!

Sincerely,

 

--Alex Sink


CFO SINK DELIVERS A CHECK TO A PENSACOLA RESIDENT FROM THE MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM

John Dill, a 67-year-old military retiree of Pensacola, received a My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) grant reimbursement and a visit from Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink a few weeks ago, 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 reduce the potential for hurricane damage. Dill made improvements through a program-approved contractor for nearly $10,000 and was reimbursed by the state for half the cost of improvements, a total of $ $4,942.57. 

Tasked to perform 400,000 free wind inspections in the next two years, CFO Sink is encouraging Floridians to sign up for free wind inspections.  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 with a building permit issued 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.  Additionally, grants may only be used for opening protections and bracing gable ends.


STATE FIRE MARSHAL’S OFFICE PROVIDING DISASTER TRAINING FOR FLORIDA’S FISH AND WILDLIFE OFFICERS
Collaborative Effort Strengthens Florida’s Urban Search and Rescue Teams

Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink said Floridians will be better protected this hurricane season now that dozens of law enforcement officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) have been trained to deploy during natural or manmade disasters with the state’s nine Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) teams. CFO Sink, who coordinates search and rescue operations when the state’s Emergency Operations Center is activated, said Florida is the only state to have this kind of collaboration.

“During disasters, the state’s urban search and rescue task forces are among the first to be called out,” said CFO Sink. “Coordinating these teams better equips our state to respond to natural disasters and better protects our search and rescue personnel as they head into dangerous situations.”

The training was held last month at the Florida State Fire College, which is operated by the Division of State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire Standards and Training. The FWC officers learned the role of the US&R Task Forces so that they can act as “force protection” and supplement local law enforcement officers who often are stretched thin during disasters. Hurricane Season began June 1 and continues through November 30.

Examples of the force protection that FWC teams may provide include guarding equipment while search and rescue task force members are in the field, or intervening in hostile situations. The FWC officers will also assist with various US&R team activities with water-related responses, navigating and transportation into devastated areas.

FWC Captain John Burton said their groups have deployed in past emergencies but that this training will help them work in a more informed way with the US&R teams. “The specialized equipment and training that FWC personnel have are great assets for responding to hurricanes or natural disasters. The predictions for an active hurricane season make our cooperation so much more important,” said Captain Burton.

To date, more than $45 million in Homeland Security funds have been funneled through the State Fire Marshal’s Office to provide more than 182,000 hours of disaster training and provide equipment for fire departments and emergency responders throughout the state. Since 2001, the task forces have been used to respond to hurricanes and tornadoes both in Florida and in neighboring states. For more information on the US&R training at the Florida State Fire College, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click on State Fire Marshal, Bureau of Fire Standards and Training.


CFO SINK REVOKES AGENT’S LICENSE FOR EXPLOITING SENIORS 

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has revoked the license of a south Florida insurance agent and ordered him to pay a $40,000 fine for targeting senior citizens, some suffering from dementia, for the sale of unsuitable deferred annuity products.   

In one instance, Joseph John Ripa, 48, convinced an 83-year-old retiree seeking supplemental retirement income to invest his entire liquid net worth in an equity indexed deferred annuity that provided no immediate income and carried with it 13 years of surrender charges as high as 17 percent.  The license revocation is based on findings arising out of an investigation and prosecution by the Department of Financial Services, which CFO Sink oversees, and was recommended by a Division of Administrative Hearings judge following a formal hearing. 

“It is sad and deplorable that anyone would take advantage of senior citizens looking for help in supplementing their income,” said CFO Sink.  “This man knowingly locked his customers’ money away in annuities that could be accessed only by paying steep penalties or after a dozen years or more, and that certainly was not to the benefit of the customers he targeted.”  

Ripa, who was associated with Fidelity Assurance, Inc., of St. Petersburg, was aware that the products he was selling were unsuitable for the seniors he targeted, but concealed that fact by failing to disclose to his clients the applicable surrender charges and penalties, along with other potentially harmful features of the products. He sold equity indexed deferred annuities and other annuity products to consumers, ranging in age from 75 to 90, and in at least three instances he targeted vulnerable consumers who he knew suffered from dementia and could not exercise sound judgment on their own behalf at the time of the sale. 

Even though they are sometimes marketed as “safe” investments that offer a guarantee of principle with a potential to earn stock market-like returns, equity indexed deferred annuities can be complex products to understand and frequently carry hefty surrender charges that may last for many years. Because these products typically restrict a consumer’s ability to access the funds without penalty and are not considered liquid investments, they are often unsuitable for seniors. For more information, log on to http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Consumers/. To file a complaint or ask a question, log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call the Department's Consumer Helpline at 1-800-342-2762. 

The Department's Division of Agent & Agency Services, Bureau of Investigation, investigates various forms of insurance agent violations concerning health, life, auto, property, workers compensation, bail bonds and title insurance.


MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM TO SIGN UP HOMEOWNERS FOR FREE WIND INSPECTIONS AT FAIA HURRICANE EXPOS

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that next weekend the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program will be signing up eligible homeowners for free wind inspections at the Florida Association of Insurance Agents' (FAIA) Hardening Your Home Against Hurricanes: A Trusted Choice Safe Living Expos. This past weekend representatives from the MSFH program signed up homeowners at expos in Tallahassee, Pensacola, Miami, Daytona, and Winter Park.

Future Hardening Your Home Against Hurricanes expos will be held in four Florida cities on July 21 from 8:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon.  Homeowners can sign up for their free wind inspection at select Home Depot stores in St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Boynton Beach, and Davie.  The MSFH program will be joining representatives from FAIA, FLASH, the National Weather Service and County Emergency Management at local Home Depot stores to promote the importance of mitigation and hurricane safety.  

As CFO, Sink oversees the state’s MSFH program, which helps Floridians identify how they can strengthen their homes and reduces the overall potential for hurricane damage in our state. The MSFH program offers eligible homeowners a free wind inspection by trained and qualified hurricane mitigation inspectors. Homeowners who have received these inspections and meet additional criteria set by the Legislature may also have the opportunity to apply for a matching grant of up to $5,000 to make recommended improvements. 

In order to be eligible for the program’s matching grant reimbursements of up to $5,000, the 2007 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 with a building permit issued 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.  Additionally, while the free wind inspections will still cover seven potential wind-resistance improvements, matching grants may only be used for opening protections, including windows, exterior doors and garage doors, as well as the bracing of gable ends.  

The MSFH program expanded statewide this spring after a pilot program the previous year and has performed more than 55,000 free wind inspections since April 23, 2007.  More than 5,800 homeowners statewide are currently working with the MSFH program to harden their homes and will receive their matching grants upon the completion of their recommended improvements.  Statewide, the program has issued nearly $1.2 million in grants to 413 homeowners who have completed the improvements recommended in their inspection reports. 

MSFH will be signing up homeowners for free wind inspections at select Home Depots for the following FAIA Expos:

DATE & TIME: Saturday, July 21, 2007, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
 

LOCATIONS:   
St. Petersburg Home Depot #257   
2300 22nd Ave North

E. Bradenton Home Depot #6319
5475 University Parkway

Boynton Beach Home Depot #224
1500 SW 8th Street

Davie Home Depot #222
2300 S University Drive




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