Lawmakers want to track state hurricane inspection program

Mar 19, 2008

My Safe Florida Home doesn’t track results; lawmaker wants to change that


TAMPA — A new $1.06-million My Safe Florida Home advertising campaign tells homeowners statewide that applying for a free hurricane wind inspection could save them money.

It is what the television and radio commercials do not say, however, that has state Rep. Kevin Ambler looking to make a change.

The advertisements — which begin with the line "How fast can you save money?" — do not mention that the potential savings are based largely on anecdotal evidence, not verified examples.

The commercials say that thousands of residents who have received a free inspection have qualified for an average discount of about $200 on their wind insurance premiums.

"We’re not saying it’s guaranteed savings," said Kevin Cate, deputy communications director for Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, whose office runs My Safe Florida Home. "We’re saying thousands of people are qualifying, which they are."

The ad campaign also does not mention the matching grant portion of the state program. The omission is intentional, Cate said, because the focus of the ads is on the inspections and the potential savings.

The program uses the free inspection to determine what, if any, discounts individual homeowners qualify for and then gives them a form to submit to their insurance company.

But officials have no idea how many have submitted the form or received a discount.

The Tampa Tribune in February, through a public records request, found just 17 homeowners who had informed the state of receiving a discount. But not everyone said how much they saved, making it impossible to determine an average discount.

Cate said the program is not required by the Legislature to track that data.

But Ambler said that may change.

Ambler, R-Lutz, is working with other state lawmakers to craft an amendment to the My Safe Florida Home legislation that could help make the program more accountable.

Ambler said the Legislature could require insurance companies to provide an annual report listing how many policyholders received a discount as a result of My Safe Florida Home and the average discount received.

The report, he said, could show that very few people are applying for the discounts. Or it could show that a lot of people have received a discount but that few have received significant savings.

"I think it will help us to identify and ask the right questions," he said. "Then we can make decisions based on verifiable information, instead of guesses."

When My Safe Florida Home was created in 2006, it was a two-prong effort designed to help residents statewide identify areas where their houses could be strengthened against future storms, and to offer matching grants up to $5,000 to make the improvements.

In order to apply for a grant, people first had to receive a free inspection.

Program officials have spent about $211 million of the $250 million allocated by the Legislature. The program is still far short of its goal of completing 400,000 free inspections by June 2009. Each inspection costs the state about $140.