Safe Home Program Insurance Benefit Scarce, Survey Finds

Apr 29, 2008

Tampa Bay Online--April 29, 2008

The Tampa Tribune

TAMPA – Many My Safe Florida Home customers are not saving money on their wind insurance, according to a survey released Monday by the state Department of Financial Services.

The insurance savings have long been touted by program officials as an incentive for homeowners to sign up for the program or to make improvements to their homes.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has emphasized the savings, saying in press releases and interviews that as many as 71 percent of participants were eligible for an average statewide discount of about $200.

And, last month, the program spent $1.06 million on a new advertising campaign focusing largely on the potential savings.

But of 5,346 people asked in the survey whether they received a discount because of their free inspection or improvements made to their home, only 1,760 said yes.

Nearly half, or 2,647 people, said they have received no discount. And another 939 people said they didn’t know.

My Safe Florida Home was created in 2006 to help homeowners determine whether their houses could withstand a severe hurricane. The program, which is operated through the Department of Financial Services, offers free inspections for all residents and grant reimbursements for eligible homeowners who want to improve their houses and meet certain criteria.

To date, more than 214,000 homeowners have received a free wind inspection and 26,973 have been approved for a grant.

The survey, however, was sent to a fraction of those individuals – about 24,300 people who had either received an inspection or had been approved for a grant. Of those, about 5,400 completed the survey, the majority of whom had only received a free inspection.

MSFH officials praised the survey Monday as a showcase for customer satisfaction. A statement pointed to high marks received for the ease of the application process (97 percent favorable), willingness to recommend the program (82 percent) and excellent or good experience (80 percent).

But the survey also was notable for what it showed about grant reimbursements – namely, that some people who have filed for a reimbursement have yet to be paid.

The survey asked whether people had received their reimbursement within the time expected, typically 45 days. Out of 701 respondents, 92 people said yes, 50 said no and 384 people said they have yet to be reimbursed.

Tami Torres, program administrator, said Monday that to date, 6,519 homeowners had been reimbursed $21.1 million for improvements made to their houses.

The Legislature set a goal of 400,000 free inspections performed and 35,000 grants awarded by June 2009. Program officials said they may hit their target for grants by May. Officials since last year have downplayed the grants portion of the program, focusing instead on the free inspections and the potential insurance savings.

Homeowners who receive an inspection are given a form that lists areas where they may be eligible for discounts. Residents are responsible for sending the form to their insurance provider, and program officials have said that they are not required by the Legislature to track how many people submit the form.

The million-dollar advertising campaign launched March 10 dealt exclusively with inspections and potential insurance savings and did not mention grants.

But the bulk of examples used by the program to spotlight the discounts have been anecdotal.

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

The survey released Monday did not ask people about the amount of savings received.