Volume 6 Number 14 April 3, 2009
Since this week marks the halfway point in Florida’s 2009 legislative session, I wanted to offer some thoughts on my priorities and what’s going on in your capital. As you all know, the economy continues to dominate as the state’s most pressing issue.
The Safeguard our Seniors legislation I have supported to protect seniors from financial fraud continued to move through the Senate this week, but is still stalled in the House. I hope that lawmakers will consider this bill, which institutes real penalties for unscrupulous agents who defraud seniors and establishes better protections upfront for senior investors.
I am also encouraging the Legislature to continue the My Safe Florida Home Program, which has been extremely successful at helping Floridians harden their homes and protect themselves and their families from hurricane damage.
There is still a lot of work to be done, but know that I will continue to be a watchdog for your tax dollars and an advocate for smart, responsible decisions here in Tallahassee.
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida
Late last week, CFO Sink joined Mayor Lois Frankel, Congressman Ron Klein and citizens of West Palm Beach for the groundbreaking of Palm Harbor Marina, a renovation project in downtown West Palm Beach. CFO Sink applauded the new development, which is expected to create up to 250 jobs and provide an ongoing source of revenue for the local economy. Plans for the multi-million dollar public/private renovation include upgrading the marina to have up to 250 boat slips; in later phases, a boutique hotel and parking garage will be added to the development.
Garrett Mayersohn, a Parkland resident and Westglades Middle School student, has never let cerebral palsy slow him down: the teenager enjoys listening to music, serving as a peer counselor, playing soccer and hanging out with his friends, and has even been honored by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel as a “Kid of Character.”
This week, Garrett decided to try his hand at something new -- lobbying – so he traveled to Tallahassee for Developmental Disability Awareness Day at the Capitol. Supported by his family, teachers and school principal, Garrett spoke to legislators and elected officials to urge funding for education and developmentally disabled Floridians.
Garrett met Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink by introduction of one of Garrett’s good friends, State Representative Martin Kiar. Garrett asked for CFO Sink’s support in urging lawmakers to come together and safeguard continued funding for programs that support children and adults with special needs, and he also urged her to support changing the structure of requiring FCAT results to be the sole determining factor for receiving a standard high school diploma. Once his legislative priorities had been discussed, CFO Sink and Garrett also spoke about their mutual interests, hobbies, and family.
The first day of April may be a great day for practical jokes, but having a poor understanding of finances is no laughing matter. That’s why Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink says April, which has been declared Financial Literacy Month in Florida, is a great time for Floridians to take control of their financial future.
“While many of us realize the importance of money management and budgeting in these tough times, one in four Floridians still do not adequately set money aside or plan for retirement, and still have more debt than savings,” said CFO Sink. “As our state struggles with a troubled economy and a foreclosure crisis, it is more important than ever for Floridians to take control of their families’ financial future.”
During Financial Literacy Month, CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services is scheduled to provide a variety of financial education programs throughout the state on a variety of topics. In April, Floridians can learn about disaster preparedness, identify theft, and buying a first home, as well as programs under the CFO’s ongoing Safeguard our Seniors and Florida Housing Help initiatives.
CFO Sink oversees the Florida Financial Literacy Council, which was created to help Floridians make better financial decisions. At a quarterly meeting of the Financial Literacy Council last week, CFO Sink presented the resolution declaring April as Financial Literacy Month and spoke about the importance of Financial Literacy in the state.
The Financial Literacy Council includes representatives from the financial and real estate industry, AARP Florida, the Florida Council on Economic Education and other fields. To learn more about the Financial Literacy Council, visit www.myfloridamoney.com.
The Department of Financial Services is continuing to host and participate in numerous workshops to help struggling Florida homeowners as part of Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s Florida Housing Help initiative.
Last weekend in Jacksonville, more than 400 people attended a workshop sponsored by U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Browne in which DFS was asked to participate. The workshop was held at the Beaver Street Enterprise Center.
The department provided a short presentation on homeowner’s insurance including ways to save on premiums, information on forced-place insurance coverage, and resources available on Sink’s Florida Housing Help website. In addition, the department found unclaimed property for more than 20 people including last paychecks, utility deposits, matured life insurance polices, and store credits.
The next events are scheduled April 18 in Tampa and Ft. Myers, and are sponsored by U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Castor and U.S. Senator Mel Martinez, respectively. Congresswoman Castor’s workshop will begin at 9 a.m. and will be held at Middleton High School, located at 4801 N. 22nd St. in Tampa. Sen. Martinez’s workshop will begin at 10 a.m. at Edison State College, located at 8099 College Parkway in Fort Myers.
Florida bonds finance investments in infrastructure projects for our schools, roads, environmental resources, public facilities and water and wastewater facilities. Through this Web site, you will learn more about Florida bonds and how to become an investor. This site will be updated regularly to feature upcoming bond sales, with information specific to the bonds being offered. Visit www.BuyFloridaBonds.com.
Note: The Buy Florida Bonds Web site is not an offer to sell or solicitation of an offer to buy bonds. Bonds may only be purchased through a licensed broker.
Millions of low- to moderate-income workers in Florida may be eligible to receive an additional tax credit, as well as free help preparing their tax returns.
CFO Sink said some individuals and families may qualify for the credit for the first time because of unemployment or other changes in their financial, marital or parental status during the past year.
Free help is available to determine eligibility and assist eligible Floridians with tax preparation at volunteer tax assistance sites or at a local IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center.
The locations and hours of operations of free tax preparation sites statewide are available online at http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/docs/2009FLSitesCty.pdf.
The IRS estimates that 20 to 25 percent of eligible taxpayers fail to claim the credit, which could put as much as $4,824 into the pockets of a family with two children, send as much as $2,917 to a family with one child, or provide $438 for a worker with no children. The EITC is the federal government’s largest program benefiting lower earning workers.
“Especially in these difficult economic times, the extra dollars eligible taxpayers can receive through the EITC can make their lives a little easier,” said CFO Sink. “When Floridians sit down to file their taxes this year, I encourage everyone to check to see whether they are eligible for nearly $5,000 in tax relief.”
Taxpayers with the earnings of or below $38,646 ($41,646 if married filing jointly) for families with two or more children; $33,995 ($36,995 married filing jointly) for families with one child; or $12,880 ($15,880 married filing jointly) if there are no children should check to see if they qualify. The EITC is a valuable but complex tax break.
People visiting the tax preparation sites should arrive prepared with the following items:
To file taxes electronically on a married filing joint tax return, both spouses must be present to sign the required forms.
Florida’s Long-Term Care Partnership Program, between Medicaid and private long-term care insurers, is designed to encourage individuals to purchase private long-term care insurance.
Long-Term Care Partnership policies are tax qualified (a portion of premiums paid may be claimed as a tax deduction) under federal law; provide policyholders with inflation protection; and most importantly, provide dollar-for-dollar asset protection in the event the policyholder needs to apply for long-term care Medicaid assistance. For every dollar that a partnership policy pays out in benefits, a dollar of assets can be protected from Medicaid spend-down requirements.
The Long-Term Care Insurance Partnership Program seeks to alleviate the financial burden on the state’s Medicaid program by encouraging individuals to purchase private long-term care insurance. In return for purchasing partnership policies or certificates, a portion of policy or certificate holders’ assets will be disregarded when determining eligibility for Medicaid long term care services, if and when they apply for such services.
Insurance companies voluntarily agree to participate in the Partnership Program by offering long term care insurance coverage that meet certain state and federal requirements. Qualifying long term care insurance policies or certificates must meet certain minimum requirements - being federally tax-qualified, providing inflation protection for certain ages, and providing the coverage in Florida where the policy or certificate coverage was purchased.
Insurance companies that sell long term care insurance and participate in the Partnership program may be able to exchange an existing LTC policy or certificate to a Partnership policy or certificate.
You can find out more information about these policies or certificates by contacting a trusted and reputable insurance agent, attorney, accountant or financial planner.
For more information about Medicaid and long term care, visit the Agency for Health Care Administration's Web site at AHCA-Florida Long-term Care Partnership, read the Frequently Asked Questions and contact:
If you have an older unit, you may be tempted to buy a new air conditioner. Before you decide to buy an energy saving air conditioner, do everything you can to reduce the amount of air and heat that might pass between the inside and outside of your home. Remember, it is cheaper and better to convert a poorly insulated, leaky home into a well-insulated, airtight home, and then buy a mid-efficiency air conditioner, than it is to install the highest rated energy saving unit on the market only to blow air into a sieve. Even if you have an older air conditioner, there are several things you can do to make it operate more efficiently. Here are some tips:
First, although it may seem unnecessary, it is a good idea to schedule an annual check-up with a licensed AC contractor to review your heating/cooling system. Schedule the check of your cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall since licensed contractors get busy once the summer heat or winter chill arrives.
Second, check the air filter in your unit frequently. If your unit uses the thin filter with cardboard border, you should change the filter monthly. Fanfold filters may not need to be changed more than once a year, but check them every month or two to ensure they aren't clogged. Checking and changing your air filter is particularly important if you live in a smoggy area, are near a renovation project or woodworking area or have a shedding dog or cat. Clogged air filters restrict airflow through the unit, which means the compressor has to do more work while cooling less air.
Third, consider buying a programmable thermostat. Many people aren’t in their homes all day. You can save energy by taking advantage of periods in the day when your home doesn’t need to be kept as cool. A programmable thermostat, set and used properly, can save about $100 in energy costs each year. So during this tough economic period, take time to make your appliances work as efficiently as possible.