TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Florida Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis highlighted the 2021 accomplishments of the Department of Financial Services (DFS).
CFO and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis said, “I am proud of the men and women of the Department who made the lives of everyday Floridians better. This was a big year for helping people. The last few years have been challenging for a lot of folks, but I will forever be proud of the men and women of the department who – despite all of the challenges – came to work every day to help people. From the State Fire Marshal’s Office who responded to storms and horrific disasters like Surfside, to our sworn law enforcement officials who are cracking down on the kind of insurance fraud that impacts all of our rates, our agency has never been stronger. We’ve got employees who are fielding calls each day to hold insurers accountable to policyholders, we’ve got teams of professionals who are returning hundreds of millions of dollars in unclaimed property back to their rightful owners, and we’ve got folks that are managing billions of dollars to ensure we’re being fiscally accountable to the taxpayer. Year-over-year, there is an endless amount of good that our public servants provide for Florida communities, and I’ll keep singing their praises as we enter the New Year.”
Key Accomplishments of 2021 – “A Year of Helping People”
Fighting for Florida’s First Responders
The CFO worked with the Legislature to successfully double funding for Florida’s Cancer Decontamination Grant program from $250,000 to $500,000. The program provides important funding for fire districts to acquire equipment for removing cancer-causing carcinogens from gear firefighters use. The equipment also serves as pandemic protections against viruses like COVID-19.
In the face of the Surfside tragedy, the CFO and State Fire Marshal deployed mental wellness peer teams [myfloridacfo.com] to support Florida’s Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) teams who fought to save lives at the condo-collapse.
The CFO fought to prioritize first responders [myfloridacfo.com] once a COVID-19 vaccine was available, but opposed attempts of forcing vaccines [myfloridacfo.com].
To support smaller fire districts, the CFO worked with the Legislature to allow volunteer firefighters who were enrolled in fire school [myfloridacfo.com] to continue service in their communities. Prior to the law change, they would have been barred from working on their volunteer teams until they had completed school.
Supporting Florida Small Businesses
As someone who spent the majority of their career in the restaurant industry, CFO Patronis’ top priority during the 2021 Legislative Session was to pass vital COVID liability protections [myfloridacfo.com] for Florida’s businesses, and legislation was the first bill signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis during the 2021 session. This legislation was critical to getting Florida businesses – that were already working on tight margins because of the pandemic – to reopen without fear of facing frivolous litigation. To build grassroots support for protecting small businesses, the CFO hosted six ‘Rally at the Restaurant’ events with legislators and key stakeholders to highlight the need for liability protections to save Florida jobs and protect employees.
Additionally, understanding the important need for liability protections for frontline healthcare workers, CFO Patronis also advocated for healthcare liability protections [myfloridacfo.com] during his ‘Supporting our Healthcare Heroes’ campaign.
Florida businesses are also experiencing reduced workers' compensation insurance rates [floir.com] as the Office of Insurance Regulation approved a 4.9% insurance rate decrease. The decrease applies to both new and renewal workers’ compensation insurance policies effective in Florida as of January 1, 2022.
In response to the Colonial Pipeline shutdown in the Spring, the CFO, who also doubles as the State Fire Marshal, issued a directive [myfloridacfo.com] providing retail gas stations with more flexibility for attendants to assist in increasing efficiency at fueling stations and increase staffing. This directive worked to help alleviate long lines at gas stations.
Fighting Fraud and Protecting Florida Consumers
CFO Patronis continued his mission to fight fraud and protect Florida’s consumers from scams and financial abuse. The CFO’s fraud detectives made 886 arrests in fraud, arson, and misuse of state funds, with a total of more than $11 million in court ordered restitution.
In an effort to combat insurance fraud, CFO Patronis worked with the Florida Legislature to create two new fraud fighting squads [myfloridacfo.com] solely dedicated to fighting homeowners and property insurance fraud in Florida. The new squads are comprised of 13 total personnel, including ten sworn law enforcement detectives in Tampa and Orlando working with federal, state, and local partners to investigate property insurance fraud statewide.
CFO Patronis also advocated for vital consumer protection legislation [myfloridacfo.com] this year with a bill the Governor signed into law, which provided DFS with the authority to license adjusting firms [myfloridacfo.com] that employ public and independent adjusters, providing the department with an important tool to crack down on fraud that impacts consumers and insurance rates.
In addition, a CFO priority bill was signed into law by the Governor that helps to fight the epidemic of unsolicited telemarketing phone calls [myfloridacfo.com] that plague the phone lines of Floridians on a daily basis.
CFO Patronis pushed back against the Biden Administration’s proposal to allow the IRS to spy on the bank accounts of everyday Floridians, penning an op-ed [floridapolitics.com] and hosting a roundtable [myfloridacfo.com] on why Florida would not comply with this absurd government overreach. Because of the grassroots effort within Florida and the nation, the IRS ultimately dropped the proposal.
CFO Patronis launched “Be Scam Smart [myfloridacfo.com],” a consumer protection initiative aimed at protecting seniors from fraud and scams that were especially vulnerable because of the pandemic. To empower Florida’s seniors, the videos [myfloridacfo.com] cover topics such as scams, identity theft, annuities and reverse mortgages.
Returning Hundreds of Millions of Dollars in Property to Rightful Owners
In 2021, CFO Patronis’ Division of Unclaimed Property returned more than 500,000 accounts to Floridians valued at more than $353 million, a calendar year record. Since CFO Patronis took office in July 2017, the Division has returned more than $1.5 billion in Unclaimed Property.
This year, CFO Patronis provided the first ever online [myfloridacfo.com] Florida Unclaimed Property Auction, which netted more than $899,000, with approximately 59,000 items sold. As a part of his Holiday Money Hunt initiative, the CFO hosted a Tampa area Unclaimed Property Phone Bank, which returned more than $300,000 for Tampa area residents.
The Department’s Holocaust Victims Assistance Program helped claimants secure $14 million in various financial instruments [myfloridacfo.com] they were entitled to. The program provides assistance to Florida Holocaust survivors seeking to recover proceeds from insurance policies issued to Holocaust victims and restitution for Nazi-confiscated bank accounts, art and property. Since the program’s inception, the total monetary recoveries and assistance recovered through the Holocaust Victims Assistance Program is more than $77 million.
Protecting Florida Tax Dollars
Florida’s AAA bond rating was reaffirmed by all three top credit rating agencies Moody's Investors Service, Fitch Ratings [myfloridacfo.com] and S&P Global [myfloridacfo.com].
Under the CFO’s leadership, the Florida Division of Treasury [myfloridacfo.com] earned more than $553.6 million in interest during the 2020-21 Fiscal Year, which began July 1, 2020 and ended June 30, 2021. Since CFO Patronis took office in 2017, the Division of Treasury has earned more than $2.4 billion in interest.
CFO Patronis successfully advocated for legislation to install vendor transparency measures [myfloridacfo.com] in the state’s procurement system and fight the influence of foreign governments, including the Communist Party of China. The legislation was signed into law by the Governor.
Following their boycott of Israel, CFO Patronis supported the addition [myfloridacfo.com] of Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever, PLC, to the Scrutinized Companies List for their brazen refusal to do business in Israel. The CFO has long been a constant advocate for the support of Israel, Florida’s economic partner and the United States’ only ally in the Middle East.
Recently, the CFO also took action to limit the state’s financial exposure to Communist China [myfloridacfo.com] by joining Governor Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody in voting to survey where investments have been made by the State Board of Administration (SBA) in Chinese-state interests. The Trustees also voted to revoke proxy voting by fund managers that invest Florida’s retirement money into businesses focused on factors other than good-returns. They also voted to reaffirm the SBA’s responsibility in supporting plan participants.