Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Ashley Moody: Deadline Approaching for Restitution Claims in Yahoo Data Breach Case

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On Wednesday, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s Office issued a Consumer Alert to urge victims of the Yahoo Inc. and Aabaco Small Business, LLC’s data breaches to claim millions of dollars made available for restitution.

Individuals with Yahoo accounts between Jan. 1, 2012 and Dec. 31, 2016 are entitled to settlement claims and free credit monitoring. The deadline to file a claim is July 20.

For more information on the claims process, visit YahooDataBreachSettlement.com.

More than 3.5 billion Yahoo user accounts worldwide fell victim to the years-long data breaches. Claims notices went out to potentially eligible American consumers with information about how to obtain restitution. Eligible victims are encouraged to submit claim forms as soon as possible.

The years-long data breaches include malicious actors gaining access to Yahoo’s internal systems and user database, collecting personal information such as names, email addresses, telephone numbers, birth dates, passwords, calendars, contacts and security questions and answers of Yahoo account holders.

Those entitled to submit a claim will receive a minimum of two years of future Credit Monitoring Services to protect settlement class members from future harm. Settlement class members able to verify preexisting credit monitoring or identity protection services for at least one year are entitled to an alternative cash payment between less than $100 to up to $358. The settlement will also provide cash payments of up to $25,000 in out-of-pocket losses, including lost time that settlement class members believe to have been suffered due to the data breaches.

Payments from documented out-of-pocket losses may be received for up to 15 hours of time at an hourly rate of $25 per hour or unpaid time off work at the hourly rate. If lost time is not documented, payments can be made for up to five hours at the same rate.

 

Jimmy Patronis Urges Elon Musk To Move Operations From California to Florida Due to Better Tax Climate

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With Wednesday being Tax Day, Florida Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis announced that he sent a letter to Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk encouraging him to leave California and relocate his businesses to the Sunshine State due to lower taxes.

The letter, which Patronis sent out on Tuesday. is below.

 

Dear Mr. Elon Musk:

With Tax Day upon us you must be saying to yourself, “What are you thinking?” No doubt, you’ve got to wonder whether all those taxes you pay in California are really worth it. As Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, I’m here to remind you that there is no time like the present to consider moving your businesses to the Sunshine State. Your passion for changing the world for the better can best succeed in a state that supports and promotes free enterprise. Clearly, California politicians are more focused on flexing the muscle of government control and regulation, while paralyzing the activity of free enterprise, than they are on letting a free market operate for the benefit of workers.

Of course, relocating to Florida makes the most business sense. As a Florida resident you wouldn’t be subject to state income taxes. Also, depending on how your many businesses are organized, you may realize up to a 50 percent savings on Corporate Income taxes as Florida’s 4.4 percent corporate income tax is half of California’s 8.84 percent rate.  Florida is also aggressive in incentivizing growth of the space-industry by offering a number of tax incentives including, an exemption of sales tax on machinery and equipment, an exemption of excise tax for space launch vehicle fuels, an exemption of space laboratories and carriers, and an exemption of direct and overhead materials. Governor DeSantis also announced last week that Florida is leaning forward in the electric vehicle space by investing $8.6 million into electric vehicle infrastructure. This investment is expected to expand charging stations by 50 percent along Florida’s most heavily traveled corridors.

We’re also a fiscally healthier state. California has already burned though $9 billion of its rainy day fund, while Florida’s Budget Stabilization Fund remains untouched.  For a successful businessman like yourself, California has no problem raising taxes and fees in poor economic times, so prepare yourself for the inevitable shakedown by politicians and bureaucrats who have never had to worry about making payroll.

I would also argue that Florida’s overall pro-business attitude is reason enough to relocate. Don’t forget you had to battle state and local leaders to re-open your factory in Alameda County. These are headaches you won’t have to deal with in the Sunshine State.  Our Governor and Legislature understand that keeping Florida’s economy alive and protecting Floridians from the global pandemic aren’t mutually exclusive. With California beginning the process of shutting down another grouping of indoor businesses, it’s only a matter of time before you’re facing another government-mandated shutdown.

I know you’re a busy man, but next time you visit the Sunshine State for another successful rocket launch, spend some time with the men and women who live in Florida and work at SpaceX to get their take on what working and living in Florida means to them and their families. I guarantee you’re going to hear stories from those folks about how Florida supports, and doesn’t inhibit, their growth and success.

Unlike California, Florida won’t take your business for granted. Florida is a place of visionaries with bold ideas, while the State of California worships at the church of government and bureaucracy. California’s leaders aren’t interested in helping your success; they’re interested in your submission to their authority. Come to Florida where your only limitation will be your imagination.

 

Donna Shalala Takes Aim at Chinese Regime’s Confucius Institutes

Donna Shalala
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This week, U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., who led three higher ed institutions, introduced a proposal to limit the influence of the Chinese regime on American college campuses.

Shalala introduced the “Concerns Over Nations Funding University Campus Institutes in the United States Act (CONFUCIUS Act) on Monday with U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, as a cosponsor.

According to the congresswoman’s office, the “bill would seek to limit the influence of Confucius Institutes – cultural and language exchange programs at American universities funded by the Chinese government – by barring Department of Education funds from going to any college or university that does not comply with the provisions of the bill” and “would not include funding disbursed to students, such as Pell grants.”

Shalala, who was the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin and the president of both Hunter College and the University of Miami, weighed in on her bill on Tuesday.

“Confucius Institutes are directly funded by the Communist Chinese government, which suppresses freedom of speech, academic freedom, and other democratic values,” said Shalala. “As an educator, I understand the importance of academic independence and integrity in our institutions of higher learning, but through Confucius Institutes, the Chinese government is often able to coerce schools to follow a pro-Chinese Communist Party approach. The CONFUCIUS Act will support important cultural exchange with China while strongly protecting the values of American public higher education that have made it the envy of the world.”

“I am proud to introduce the CONFUCIUS Act in the U.S. House of Representatives today alongside Congresswoman Shalala to protect American institutions of higher education from undue influence at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” said Gonzalez. “The CCP has used these institutes to promote a pro-China image while actively working to steal American research and innovation and coerce our colleges and universities. It is time we hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for their actions and work to protect American institutions of higher learning.”

The bill would stop federal funding to “colleges and universities that host Confucius Institutes not in compliance with the law” and would ensure the various schools–and not the Chinese government–would oversee the Confucius Institutes.

Shalala’s legislation is a companion bill to U.S. Sen. John Kennedy’s, R-La., proposal which cleared the U.S. Senate without opposition last month. The bill was sent to the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee.

 

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

Michael Waltz Continues to Fight for National Service GI Bill Act

Michael Waltz

U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., is pushing a bill that would offer free college to those who serve their country in some capacity, including military service and other options.

While Waltz, the first Green Beret to serve in Congress, insists he does not want a return to the draft, he is calling a one-year stint of service for any 18 year old fresh out of high school.

“Graduate high school, serve a year, get all of those life skills. Do it with people that don’t look like you–and then get some educational benefit,” Waltz said.

Noting that a person could serve in the military and obtain GI bill benefits, Waltz said there are many more outlets for those that would not want to serve in the Armed Forces. Waltz said he became determined to do something when watching the Democratic presidential debates earlier this year.

“We are seeing in the presidential race all of this talk of free, free, free,” Waltz said. “Free debt, free college. I, at least, want to get some service for it and I think the country and the taxpayers deserve some service for it. Meantime, you are instilling those life skills that we had in a previous generation.”

Waltz introduced the “National Service GI Bill Act” back in February. The proposal would allow qualifying service in areas like inner-city tutoring, Habitat for Humanity, working in the National Parks, the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) Volunteer Corps, working with seniors, the Peace Corps and an expanded JROTC.

Waltz said this type of volunteerism could help with race relations.

“The most important thing that I think is often overlooked with the Greatest Generation is everyone came together and you did it with people that didn’t look like you or didn’t share your background,” the congressman said.

He told Florida Daily about a good friend he made and shared his story.

“It really came home to me when a World War II veteran from the South that I became very close with came from the segregated South and said the first black man, the first African American he ever spoke to in his life was his bunkmate in the Navy, and they became life-long friends…. That’s how you truly come to learn and appreciate other people’s experiences, other people’s backgrounds, and overcome your own ingrained biases,” Waltz said.

Under Waltz’s proposal, a year of service would cover full costs for community college, a trade school, or in-state tuition at a four-year public college or university.

Waltz’s bill is not getting much traction in the Democratic-controlled House though 10 of his 15 cosponsors come from that side of the aisle. Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Greg Steube are cosponsoring the bill which is currently before the U.S. House Education and Labor and the Ways and Means Committees.

 

Reach Mike Synan at mike.synan@floridadaily.com.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell: FTA Sending $326 Million in CARES Act Funds to Help South Florida Transportation

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

From her seat on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., showcased almost $326 million in Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grants headed to South Florida.

Mucarsel-Powell noted that the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) and Miami-Dade Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW) will be getting  $325,989,054. The funds will be coming from the $2.3 trillion CARES Act that Congress and the White House agreed to at the end of March.

“As we face one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression, I’m proud to have fought for and won this funding in the CARES Act to protect the jobs of our invaluable transit workers and keep transit systems running so essential workers can continue their lifesaving work,” said Mucarsel-Powell. “I will continue to advocate for affordable and accessible rapid transit for our district that will connect working families, students, and our community and boost economic access for all of South Florida.”

DTPW is getting the bulk of the funds–$222,579,256–for “bus and rail system salary expenses, paratransit operations, vanpool program expenses, and security-enhancing lighting and door replacement projects.”

SFRTA will get $103,409,798 for “operating assistance and preventive maintenance costs to maintain Tri-Rail service throughout the SFRTA’s eighteen stations and seventy-two-mile corridor, rail fleet, and Operations Center.”

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

Gus Bilirakis Wants Veterans to Get Better Mental Health Treatment From Private Providers

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U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., is backing a proposal to ensure veterans seeking private mental health care will receive better treatment.

On Monday, Bilirakis showcased his support for the “ VA Clinical Training in Evidence-based treatments And Military (TEAM) Culture Act” which U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., introduced last week. U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., is also backing the proposal.

According to the Florida Republican’s office, the bill “will require that veterans receive culturally competent, evidence-based mental health treatment from private providers, as is already required of VA mental health providers.”

Bilirakis, who sits on the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, weighed in this week on why he was backing the bill.

“The staggering suicide rate that continues to plague the veteran community is much higher than the rates found in the general population.  This problem is indicative of the fact that we are not doing enough to recognize the warning signs of those who may be at risk and providing effective interventions and supports needed to prevent this tragic outcome.  It is imperative that both those within the VA and out in the community are properly trained on veteran-specific mental health issues and that they all better understand treating those from a military culture. I’m glad to join forces in this bipartisan initiative to ensure our heroes get the help they need,” said Bilirakis.

“Suicide amongst our veterans is and has been a public health crisis in this country. The suicide rate is unconscionably high, and we know that the only way to reduce it is by providing our veterans with the best mental health care possible. After serving our country bravely, the least we can do for these women and men is provide them with clinically effective mental health treatment that respects the military experience,” said Blunt Rochester. “I heard from veterans across Delaware about the importance of access to high-quality mental health care, which is why I’m proud to introduce the VA Clinical Training in Evidence-based treatments And Military (TEAM) Culture Act, which will require training to better allow private providers to understand veterans and their experiences. Providing quality health care to our veterans is upholding our end of the bargain, and the VA Clinical TEAM Culture Act will help us do just that.”

“Veteran suicide is a public health crisis, and we need to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to save lives,” said Levin. “All mental health care providers must be prepared to meet the unique challenges veterans face, which is why this bill helps ensure non-VA mental health providers are trained to treat veterans. I’m proud to join Reps. Blunt Rochester and Bilirakis in introducing this bipartisan legislation as we work together to address the epidemic of veteran suicide.”

The bill will have private mental health providers “follow the same standards and requirements as VA mental health providers” and “take courses on military culture and on evaluation and management of suicide, PTSD, TBI, and military sexual trauma (MST).”

Last week, the bill was sent to the House Veterans Affairs Committee. So far, there is no companion measure over in the U.S. Senate.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

Jimmy Patronis Urges Floridians to Take Advantage of Free Credit Reports

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On Tuesday, Florida Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis offered a reminder for Floridians about a recent announcement that credit reporting agencies Experian, Equifax and TransUnion are now offering free online credit reports to all Americans on a weekly basis through April 2021.

The major credit reporting agencies are offering this service for the next year to help individuals and families protect their financial health during the sudden and unprecedented hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During these extraordinary times, it is even more important to consistently monitor and review your credit reports for accuracy and signs of fraudulent activity. The Federal Trade Commission ranks Florida second in fraud and identity theft reports nationwide, costing Floridians an estimated nearly $90 million in fraud last year alone. All Floridians should carefully check their credit reports for errors and incomplete information and report any signs of fraud immediately. Good credit is a vital asset worth protecting to ensure a strong financial future for you and your family,” Patronis said on Tuesday.

To obtain a free credit report visit AnnualCreditReport.com and click on “Request your free credit reports”.

Last week, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody urged Floridians to take advantage of the free weekly access to credit reports currently being offered by the three national credit reporting agencies.

 

Americans Concerned About Economy, Healthcare, Support Mandatory Masks, New Poll Shows

A recent poll from Healthinsurance.com reveals insights from Americans about the effect of COVID-19, including voting in person and mandating wearing face masks in public.

According to the poll, the two most important issues to Americans as the election looms are the economy and healthcare. Half of those surveyed–50 percent–say the economy is the most important issue while the same percentage of Americans cite healthcare as the top issue.

Despite health concerns, 60 percent of Americans say they are willing to risk their health to vote in person for the upcoming November election.

The poll shows Americans remain convinced that face masks can help as the nation continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic as 85 percent think that wearing a face mask will help prevent the spread of COVID-19. A solid majority of those surveyed–77 percent–think everyone should be required to wear a face mask while 73 percent think there should be fines for not wearing a mask. Around two in five Americans–41 percent–think those fines should be more than $100.

In the meantime, the pandemic is impacting Americans’ travel habits with two-thirds of those surveyed–67 percent–say they would not travel for work or to see family members or friends this summer.

More than half of Americans–53 percent–say they are not comfortable returning to the office to work while almost half of them–47 percent–say they have found it difficult to find a way to completely disconnect from the office while working from home. Despite that, working at home remains popular with 81 percent saying they would love to work from home on a full-time basis after the pandemic ends and 43 percent saying they would be willing to take a pay cut if they could work from home.

While people are looking for new job opportunities, almost half of those surveyed–49 percent– say they are hesitant to change jobs now because they want to keep their health benefits.

The poll showed that healthcare and medical costs remain major concerns. Almost everyone surveyed–92 percent–think prescription drug prices and medical costs in the U.S. are too high and even more voters–93 percent–think prices for medical procedures should be as transparent as prices of food in the supermarket. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed–64 percent–think they pay too much for health insurance and more than half–56 percent–have avoided medical treatment because of costs.

Asked about telemedicine and in-person visits to the doctor, 60 percent of those surveyed say they will continue to opt for telemedicine options. More than half of those surveyed–56 percent–say their doctors offer virtual visits and around 30 percent say their insurance companies have reached out to them about telemedicine options.

Healthinsurance.com polled more than 1,100 Americans between the ages of 18-64. The poll was conducted from July 3-July 6 with representative samples from each state based on population.

 

Reach Ed Dean at ed.dean@floridadaily.com.

Julio Gonzalez: Florida Is In For a Rapid Economic Recovery — The Numbers Prove It

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Florida unemployment claims remain high, but our economy is undeniably on the rebound.

During the week ending on June 13, the number of first-time unemployment claims decreased by 23 percent from the previous week, falling from 112,161 to 86,298. The most recent statistics for Florida’s statewide unemployment rate are from April, when the state’s unemployment rate was 12.9 percent. As Florida continues with reopening, however, this figure will undoubtedly come down, as it has already begun to do in many states.

Our state elected officials have been working tirelessly to ensure that those who file claims are able to receive the benefits they need despite the record-breaking flood of unemployment claims the state has had to process in recent months. Many people are still waiting to receive benefits, but the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) just implemented a new system of weekly enhancements to improve performance and capacity to eliminate the backlog.

The national economy offers an encouraging preview into Florida’s future. Seasonally-adjusted new unemployment claims across the U.S. decreased to 1.48 million for the week ending June 20. That number is down from a revised total of 1.54 million new claims during the prior week, and though it remains high, this is a positive indication of an economic recovery in progress.

The national unemployment rate for the week ending June 13 stood at 13.4 percent, decreasing from the previous week’s unemployment rate of 13.9 percent. The number of unemployed people in the United States dropped from 20.29 million the prior week to 19.52 million, despite the continuing lockdowns in many states which are hindering the nascent economic recovery.

Those figures might not seem terribly encouraging at first glance, but it’s important to remember that a 0.5 percent drop in unemployment in a single week is absolutely unheard-of — it would be impressive if it took place over the course of an entire quarter!

Before the pandemic, the state’s unemployment rate stood at just 4.3 percent in March. Although the pandemic shook Florida’s economic foundations, Gov. Ron DeSantis and President Donald Trump have shown determined and bold leadership in its wake. Their economic policies helped to lower Florida’s unemployment rate significantly prior to the coronavirus epidemic, and they’re replicating that feat on a much grander scale today.

DeSantis’ support for streamlining Florida’s occupational licensing regime, for instance, will be a significant boon to Florida’s job market and help to expedite our economic recovery by cutting some of the red tape that holds back many Floridians from improving their living conditions. In the words of DeSantis, these actions will “get the government out of the way and increase opportunity” by removing “unnecessary, burdensome regulations and barriers for Floridians looking to pursue their dreams.”

Some of the other measures supported as part of this “Deregu-thon” include decreasing the application fee for athlete agents by 50 percent, from $500 to $250, as well as simplifying electrical contractor licensing forms, eliminating the 21-day waiting period and 7-hour continuing education requirements for examination retakes for electrical contractors, and reducing the turnaround times for various licensing applications to just 48 hours. DeSantis also aims to implement an online, self-printing licensing system for many professions, including cosmetologists, certified public accountants, barbers, landscape architects, and more. And with a Republican-controlled state Legislature, it is very likely that these occupational licensing reforms will be signed into law in time to help struggling Floridians.

Meanwhile, Trump’s 2017 tax reform is allowing Floridians to keep more of their hard-earned money, with the typical family of four receiving nearly $2,000 worth of annual tax relief, and the average individual saving about $1,000 per year on their federal income tax bill. Meanwhile, the corporate tax cuts included in the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” led to a sustained nationwide hiring boom, creating intense competition for qualified workers that compelled employers to increase pay, benefits, and working conditions.

Florida Concrete Unlimited, for example, was able to “reinvest in the company” by providing pay raises and higher year-end bonuses for all its employees. And Florida’s AutoNation, Inc. was able to use some of its savings from the 2017 tax cut to double its match for employee 401(k) plans, and also expand the healthcare coverage they offer for both cancer patients and those whose spouses are affected by cancer.

These are just some of the success stories made possible by Trump’s economic policies, which helped to reduce national unemployment rates to a historic, 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Although the coronavirus has obviously been a massive setback to our country’s economic fortunes, with the continued steady leadership of Trump and like-minded governors such as DeSantis, our economic fortunes have nowhere to go but up.

 

Julio Gonzalez founded Engineered Tax Services.

 

Bill Posey Offers Proposal to Get American Manufacturing Equipment Out of China

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This week, U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla. has introduced a proposal to help American companies reshore their manufacturing equipment from China back to the U.S.

Posey introduced the “Reshoring American Manufacturing Act(RAM ACT) on Monday, insisting the “COVID-19 crisis has shown how overly dependent we have become on China and other nations for vital supplies and consumer goods.”

On Tuesday, Posey offered some of the reasons behind his bill.

“Over the last three years, we have made great progress in rebuilding America’s manufacturing capability adding 500,000 good paying manufacturing jobs,” said Posey. “This legislation will build on that success by further breaking our dependence on China, restoring American manufacturing jobs, and rebuilding American industries and supply chains that are vital to our national security by bringing them home.”

The bill will offer tax credits to Americans companies, encouraging them to move manufacturing equipment out of China.

“Some companies face hurdles like high costs associated with transporting manufacturing equipment back to the United States. The RAM Act also requires companies to put the equipment into production in the U.S. There is also a ‘claw back’ provision to prevent companies from moving this same equipment back out of the U.S. should they take advantage of the tax credit,” Posey’s office noted.

Posey’s bill was sent to the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee on Monday. So far, there is no companion measure over in the U.S. Senate.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.