ST. PETERSBURG TIMES/BAY NEWS 9 2008 HURRICANE GUIDE
Once a sluggish and little-known effort riddled with mishaps, the state's My Safe Florida Home program is stepping up its effort to help homeowners prepare for hurricanes.
Using television and radio ads, launched in March, the state wants Floridians to sign up for the program's free home wind inspections and apply for up to $5,000 in grant money to make recommended improvements.
The pitch: Sign up for My Safe Florida Home and you could save an average of $200 on your property insurance and receive money to further protect your home against storms.
The wry humor of the $1.06-million ad campaign appeals to the tight economic times, suggesting you will save money faster by enrolling in the program than by cutting your own hair or conserving toilet paper.
The ads ask, "How fast can you save money?"
It is by no means a scientifically backed notion, but the point is worth considering.
Through the program, almost 2 years old, about 185,000 homeowners have received free inspections and 4,869 homeowners have received $15.5-million in grant money.
In addition, more than 13,000 low-income homeowners have received $43.6-million worth of inspections and home improvements through the program.
"There certainly have been challenges in serving many customers with limited resources, but we are committed to our mission of strengthening homes against hurricanes and better protecting Floridians and their families," said Tami Torres, the program's administrator.
By strengthening roofs and adding opening protections such as shutters, the hope is that homeowners will minimize damage during hurricanes and see their insurance rates drop.
When the $250-million program began, many homeowners complained of long delays in receiving services and benefits. Some thought it was confusing.
But almost a year ago, the state revamped the program.
Through the program, eligible homeowners can obtain the inspections and grants, whether directly through the Department of Financial Services, or through nonprofit organizations and local governments. The grants include matching money for up to $5,000 for moderate- and middle-income families and entirely free services for low-income homeowners.
Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer, announced in December that the Internal Revenue Service said the grants would not be counted as part of homeowners' gross incomes for tax purposes. Grants are limited to homes in the state's wind-borne debris region, which includes counties along the coastline.