January 15th: Friday Roundup

The weekend is calling as another work week concludes.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for the country held steady at 6.7% in December.  The number of unemployed persons held stead at 10.7 million.  While these figures are considerably lower than the spike we saw in April, they are still double the pre-pandemic levels we enjoyed last February.    Attached is the Bureau’s new release on The Employment Situation – December 2020, which contains detailed statistics on our current state. 

December bore witness to a continued decline in jobs in leisure, hospitality, and private education sectors.  These losses were offset by some gains in professional and business services, retail trade and construction; sectors which are attempting to rebound. 

Continued high unemployment figures will impact the unemployment tax rates.  This is something we will continue to keep an eye on.  Hopefully, you caught our post earlier this week regarding the anticipated increases in unemployment tax rates in Florida.  

Unemployment Tax Rates in Florida are Increasing

Unemployment often leads to criminal activities.  As COVID-19 diagnosis continue to climb nationwide, so do predatory scams related to the pandemic.  Spreading awareness of these scams is one of the best ways we can help to limit the number of individuals who fall victim.  We hope you saw our post earlier this week sharing recommendations from Regions Bank Treasury Management and the FBI on how to avoid falling prey to these scams.

Regions Bank Treasury Management sends out information on Emerging COVID-19 Scams

Stay safe and have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Unemployment Tax Rates in Florida are Increasing

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) has recently published the attached forecast summary on Florida’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund for 2021 and beyond. Suzanne Hurst, Deputy Director of Florida Association of Professional Employer Organizations (FAPEO) offers the following review of these figures.

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) is a research arm of the Legislature principally concerned with forecasting economic and social trends that affect policy making, revenues, and appropriations.

The figures below come from the attached summary provided by the Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR). This document provides historic context, current figures and forecasted figures for benefit charges, collections and rates for Florida’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund.  This important information is provided to you for your cash flow planning. 

Unemployment Tax Rates – Minimum Tax Rate

2020 – .10%

2021 – .29%

2022 – 1.15%  (forecasted)

2023 – 1.11% (forecasted)

2024 – .56% (forecasted)

2025 – .10% (forecasted)

Your Florida PEO Lobbyist, David Daniel, is presenting a detailed briefing at a meeting Friday of state-wide business interests about possible solutions to impact of social costs from benefit payments related to the pandemic.  Your FAPEO board has created multiple proposals that could lower rates as early as this year.  We will continue to advocate for common sense solutions that protect Florida’s small employers as everyone struggles during these economic times. 

We will keep you up to date on all developments as these proposals move through the lawmaking process. 

Regions Bank Treasury Management sends out information on Emerging COVID-19 Scams

Be aware of Emerging Covid-19 Scams
Author credit: Jeffrey Taylor of Regions Treasury Management Products and Services

Several government agencies have issued a bulletin warning of a new type of COVID-19 scam. Along with the previously reported scams involving personal protective equipment (PPE), COVID-19 testing, and economic stimulus payments, fraudsters are now leveraging the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the bulletin, victims are being coerced to make an out-of-pocket payment for the vaccine and provide personally identifiable information with a false promise to move their name up on the list of vaccine recipients.

The FBI warns of the following potential indicators of fraudulent activity:

  • Advertisements or offers for early access to the vaccine upon payment of a deposit or fee
  • Requests asking for out-of-pocket payment to obtain the vaccine or be added to the COVID-19 vaccine waiting list
  • Offers to provide additional medical testing or procedures when obtaining the vaccine
  • Marketers offering to sell and/or ship doses of a vaccine, domestically or internationally, in exchange for payment of a deposit or fee
  • Unsolicited emails, telephone calls, or personal contact from someone claiming to be from a medical office, insurance company or COVID-19 vaccine center requesting personal and/or medical information to determine eligibility to participate in clinical vaccine trials or obtain the vaccine
  • Claims of FDA approval for a vaccine that cannot be verified
  • Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, email, telephone calls, websites or unsolicited/unknown sources
  • Unsolicited emails, telephone calls, or personal contact from someone claiming to be a government official requiring you to receive a COVID-19 vaccine


Tips to avoid COVID-19 vaccine-related fraud:

  • Consult your state’s health department website for up-to-date information about authorized vaccine distribution channels
  • Check the FDA’s website (fda.gov) for current information about vaccine emergency use authorizations
  • Consult your primary care physician before undergoing any vaccination
  • Don’t share your personal or health information with anyone other than known and trusted medical professionals
  • Check your medical bills and insurance explanation of benefits (EOBs) for any suspicious claims and promptly report such information to your health insurance provider
  • Follow guidance from the CDC and other trusted medical professionals


General techniques for online/cyber fraud prevention:

  • Verify the spelling of web addresses, websites, and email addresses that look trustworthy but may be imitations of legitimate websites
  • Ensure operating systems and applications are updated to the most current versions
  • Update anti-malware and anti-virus software and conduct regular network scans
  • Do not enable macros on documents downloaded from an email unless necessary and only after ensuring the file is not malicious
  • Do not communicate with or open emails, attachments, or links from unknown individuals
  • Never provide personal information of any sort via email. Be aware that many emails requesting your personal information may appear to be legitimate
  • Use strong two-factor authentication, using biometrics, hardware tokens, or authentication apps
  • Disable or remove unnecessary software applications

If you believe you are a victim of a COVID-19 scam, please call Regions Client Services immediately at 1-800-787-3905, and report it to the FBI at www.ic3.gov; wwwtips.fbi.gov; or 1-800-CALL-FBI.

Want more information, or have questions?
For more helpful practices regarding fraud prevention, please visit regions.com/stopfraud and www.regions.com/fraud-prevention.

SBA Issues New PPP Update

On January 6, 2021, the SBA (Small Business Administration) issued guidance on PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) by way of 2 interim final rules (IFR). The SBA will use the consolidated guidance of PP1 and these 2 IFRs to apply to PPP2. Withum, tax and assurance advisors, has put together a summary of the guidance to help us understand. Check out the full article here.

The biggest take-away for me is that borrowers under PPP1 are eligible for loans under PPP2; see article above for eligibility details of visit that SBA website. If you are interested in applying for the second round , the SBA has provided a list of Participating Lenders. Round 2 will be handled similarly through private lenders for management of the loans as well as the forgiveness application process. If you currently have a banking relationship contact your representative for guidance, as I learned with PPP1, each institution handles the program processing differently.

For more detail on the interim rulings you can check out the SBA webpage for PPP here.

Welcome to 2021, I will say it was nice to see that a second round of assistance is being offered up for small business. These days we always need to remember to look for the silver lining, be thankful for what we have, and be strategic in planning for our needs.

One Week In

The first week of 2021 comes to a close. So far this year is shaping up to be as lively and unusual as the last. We wish everyone a mindful and happy 2021. To that end, we hope you saw our post this week on how to Start the New Year with a Digital Declutter.

Implement a 30-Day plan for building a Digital Declutter.

Step 1: Define your core values (and how technology helps and hurts them)

Step 2: Drop all “optional” technologies for 30 days

Step 3: Track your “technology triggers” and explore other activities

Step 4: Create “operating procedures” for the tools you let back in

Step 5: Actively ignore the rest

5 BEST PRACTICES FOR MAINTAINING A DIGITAL MINIMALIST LIFESTYLE FOR THE LONG-TERM

  1. Spend time alone. Solitude—both physical and mental—is important for thinking clearly. Rather than feeling the FOMO of social media, try leaving your phone at home while you go for a walk.
  2. Don’t click like. Social media and digital communication have become digital versions of fast food–easy to consume yet with little nutritional value. To combat this, Cal suggests you specifically limit the performative aspect of these tools. Yes, you can stay in touch and connect with loved ones. But don’t click ‘like’ or allow yourself to be always available.
  3. Reclaim leisure. One of the reasons we lean so heavily on digital technologies is that we’ve lost our hobbies. It’s easier to scroll through your phone than read a book. Try reclaiming leisure time for analog tasks you enjoy.
  4. Join the Attention Resistance. You don’t have to use all the features on your phone or be constantly connected to social media. As Cal writes, digital minimalists give themselves less ‘entry points’ to distraction. Try deleting social media off your phone. Or treat it like a professional task—something you do as needed and not more.
  5. Imagine you have to pay for every click, swipe, or tap. If you can’t give your time and attention the value it deserves, then give it a monetary value. Ask how your behavior would change if every swipe on Instagram, click of a clickbait-y infographic, or scroll of your Twitter feed costs $1.

Start the New Year with a Digital Declutter

Fantastic advice from Fast Company to kick off 2021!

“How do you simplify your digital life?” is quickly becoming the question of our generation. Between packed calendars, overflowing inboxes, and the constant pull of social media and news (and Netflix) it can feel like how you spend your time online isn’t really up to you.

But what if there was a way to use your technology without feeling used by it? The answer is Digital minimalism.

Coined by author and computer science professor Cal Newport in his book of the same name, digital minimalism is a philosophy of technology use based on the understanding that our relationship with our apps, tools, and phones is nuanced and deserves more intention than we give it.

The problem–as Cal sees it– is that email and chat can be both stressful and productive.

Facebook can be both distracting and empowering.

Our phones are equally annoying interruptions and powerful tools for navigating the world.

How you use your apps and tools can bring you value or be a frustrating distraction. And finding a balance between the negative and positive aspects of technology is a delicate balancing act that digital minimalism tries to solve.

THE BASICS OF DIGITAL MINIMALISM

The concept of “minimalism” has become more and more popular over the past few decades.

As many of us find ourselves sucked into a lifestyle of overconsumption and “more,” the idea of living happily with less becomes more alluring.

However, minimalism–in all its forms–isn’t just about reducing how much “stuff” you have but being intentional about why you have what you do and how you can use it in the best way possible.

As Cal explains:

“Minimalists tend to spend much less money and own many fewer things than their peers. They also tend to be much more intentional and often quite radical in shaping their lives around things that matter to them.”

Digital minimalism, in the same way, isn’t just about deleting Facebook or learning a better way to clear out your inbox. It’s about intentionally shaping your digital life around your values so you can feel good about the apps and tools you use on a daily basis.

However, this is harder than it sounds.

The problem isn’t just the sheer usage of technology. It’s in how digital technologies lump together the good with the bad like some omnibus bill.

Few of us are willing to give up the good technology does (getting around via Google Maps, seeing family photos on Instagram, etc . . .) in return for reducing the harm. Yet constantly policing your apps and your own behaviors can only lead to one thing: exhaustion.

According to our own research, we found that on average, you’re likely to:

  • Check email and chat every six minutes or less
  • Use 56+ apps and tools a day and switch between them more than 300 times
  • Spend up to 4.5 hours on your phone
  • Multitask for at least 40% of our day

It’s hard to imagine a worse situation for deep thinking, focus, and even mental health.

The more we accept a life full of attention-sucking apps, devices, and tools, the less time and energy we have for the kind of deep thinking that leads to big ideas, real creativity, and satisfaction.

Instead, digital minimalism presents a different view of technology–one where you focus your time on “a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

On the surface, the core elements of digital minimalism are simple:

First, there’s choice and intention. You’re still using technology, but only what you want and only in ways that connect to your values.

Then, there’s optimizing the tools you use. What you allow into your life needs to work for you. This means separating the good from the bad.

Finally, there’s accepting you won’t be everywhere all the time. Tech companies survive on FOMO–the fear of missing out. But digital minimalists are happy to miss out on the things they know don’t bring value to their lives.

However, this can be a strange process if you’ve never really thought about how you use technology. But as you’ll see, the results are worth it: less stress, more focus, and a better, more fulfilling life.

THE DIGITAL DECLUTTER: A 30-DAY PLAN FOR BUILDING A PRACTICE OF DIGITAL MINIMALISM

Developing a digital minimalist mindset isn’t easy. However, in his book, Cal provides a powerful tool in a 30-day plan to kickstart your minimalist lifestyle.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Define your core values (and how technology helps and hurts them)

Digital minimalism relies on a deeper understanding of your values. This is what you’ll be judging the value of each digital tool against.

So ask yourself: What is it that’s important to you? What do you want to achieve from how you spend your time?

Values can be things like authenticity or creativity or even compassion and friendship. These are intentionally large and somewhat vague. However, they’re powerful lenses to look at your technology through.

What part of using Facebook connects with your sense of authenticity? Does being on Twitter or in numerous Slack channels make you feel compassionate?

When you clearly understand your values and how they influence your philosophy of technology use, you can make informed and confident decisions about what to use and when. You become able to prioritize long-term meaning over short-term satisfaction.

(If you need help, author James Clear has a great list of core values you can use as inspiration.)

Step 2: Drop all “optional” technologies for 30 days

Instead of immediately trying to judge whether the tools you use connect to your values, Cal suggests the opposite:

Set aside a 30-day period during which you will take a break from all optional technologies in your life.

“Optional,” in this case, means any tool or app where their “temporary removal would harm or significantly disrupt the daily operation of your profession or personal life.”

Make a list of apps, tools, and services (like Netflix, gaming, etc . . .) that are effectively ‘banned’ for the next 30 days. Work email is not optional. Twitter—most likely—is. Write these down and put them somewhere you’ll be able to see them every day.

The reason for such a drastic change is because the pull of the attention economy has simply become too strong. Trying to gradually change your habits won’t work. Instead, you need the experience of a full break before you can make unbiased decisions about what to let back into your life.

Step 3: Track your “technology triggers” and explore other activities

During the 30 days of your “declutter” you have two goals:

Pay special attention to when you feel the pull of technology. When do you find yourself reaching for your phone? Do you procrastinate on work tasks or sending emails by checking Twitter? Often our technology usage masks some other underlying issue.

Explore “higher quality” activities to fill the void of time. A major part of this declutter is actively trying out other activities in place of technology. Fill the space by reading books or going for walks with friends or working on a hobby you’ve neglected or just daydreaming.

As Cal explains, by the end of the declutter you want to discover “the type of activities that generate real satisfaction, enabling you to confidently craft a better life–one in which technology serves only a supporting role for more meaningful ends.”

Step 4: Create “operating procedures” for the tools you let back in

After your break is done, you’re allowed to reintroduce optional technologies back into your life under two conditions.

First, for each tool, app, or device, ask:

“Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value?”

It doesn’t matter if the tool or app provides some value. It must be intrinsically linked to one of your core values.

For example, you might decide that reading hot takes on Twitter is just a distraction, while chatting with old friends from your hometown over Instagram deeply connects to your value of friendship.

This brings us to the second point. Once an app or tool has made it through the first pass, ask:

“Is this technology set up in the best way to support this value?”

To pass this test, Cal suggests creating operating procedures–clear rules for when and how you use each of the optional technologies you let back in.

For example, you wouldn’t just say “I use Instagram because it helps me feel connected to my friends.” Instead, you would make a more detailed rule such as:

“I check Instagram once a day after working days and limit my usage to just 20 minutes. I’ve reduced my list of friends down to just the most meaningful ones I want to keep up with.”

Every new tool you bring in must also pass these tests.

Step 5: Actively ignore the rest

With your list of allowed tools and apps, clear operating procedures, and high-quality activities to fill your time, you shouldn’t be too stressed about keeping up with Facebook or checking the news every 30 minutes.

But being a digital minimalist is an ongoing process.

As Cal explains:

“The fact that [a piece of technology] offers some value is irrelevant–the digital minimalist deploys technology to serve the things they find most important in their life, and is happy missing out on everything else.”

5 BEST PRACTICES FOR MAINTAINING A DIGITAL MINIMALIST LIFESTYLE FOR THE LONG-TERM

As we’ve written in the past, the hardest part of any productivity strategy is sticking with it for the long-term. The same goes for maintaining your new practice of digital minimalism.

The key to staying away from attention-sucking technologies is to fill that time with other, more meaningful activities. Yet this isn’t always easy if you’ve spent years scrolling, tapping, and swiping away.

To help you rebuild your curiosity in non-technologically driven pastimes, Cal outlines a number of ways to support your newfound digital autonomy:

  1. Spend time alone. Solitude—both physical and mental—is important for thinking clearly. Rather than feeling the FOMO of social media, try leaving your phone at home while you go for a walk.
  2. Don’t click like. Social media and digital communication have become digital versions of fast food–easy to consume yet with little nutritional value. To combat this, Cal suggests you specifically limit the performative aspect of these tools. Yes, you can stay in touch and connect with loved ones. But don’t click ‘like’ or allow yourself to be always available.
  3. Reclaim leisure. One of the reasons we lean so heavily on digital technologies is that we’ve lost our hobbies. It’s easier to scroll through your phone than read a book. Try reclaiming leisure time for analog tasks you enjoy.
  4. Join the Attention Resistance. You don’t have to use all the features on your phone or be constantly connected to social media. As Cal writes, digital minimalists give themselves less ‘entry points’ to distraction. Try deleting social media off your phone. Or treat it like a professional task—something you do as needed and not more.
  5. Imagine you have to pay for every click, swipe, or tap. If you can’t give your time and attention the value it deserves, then give it a monetary value. Ask how your behavior would change if every swipe on Instagram, click of a clickbait-y infographic, or scroll of your Twitter feed costs $1.

Digital minimalism is a way to not only clearly define what technologies you let into your life but how you use them.

Once you understand your true values you can build your technology use around them. Rather than feeling overwhelmed, you become more intentional, empowered, and productive.


Reminders for you New Year’s Celebrations

Yet another post about Covid-19 safety, but this is our new normal so here we go! With the close of 2020 and all of its wonderful tidings (pun-intended), how do we safely celebrate the Hope of the New Year without bringing additional risk of Covid-19? The CDC has some pointers, check out this link for their article on “Holiday Celebrations and Small Gatherings.”

In Summary

If possible stay within your Risk Pod! Your Risk Pod are those that have been part of your pandemic social group and have been taking measures to reduce the spread of the virus. People that have not been a continued part of your Risk Pod add different levels of risk for exposure.

Covid-19 is mostly spread through respiratory droplets through talking, coughing or sneezing. Find out how people have been feeling before you open your home; don’t be afraid to monitor for fevers before entry.

This virus is also known to be of spread concern through contaminated surfaces and then contact made via nose, mouth or eyes. Keep cleaning supplies nearby and use them regularly.

If your celebration is a must try and schedule for an outdoor function where people can practice social distancing. Make sure ample access for hand washing is available.

Back in May of 2020 the R Naught or reproduction number (R0) of Covid-19 was between 2 and 3 for the United States meaning for each 1 person infected the virus, on average, can be spread to 2 or 3 additional people. As of December 7th the United States was reporting R0 between 1 and 1.25. We saw spikes in new cases in November. For more Covid-19 tracker information check out Covid19-projections. There is a great amount of machine learning visuals and information on the virus here.

Whatever your celebratory activities are to ring in 2021, we at Libertate Insurance hope you Have Fun and Stay Safe! Don’t kiss strangers at the Drop of the Ball! Keep your Mask On!

Insurance Rates Will Continue to Rise in 2021

See below from Business Insurance. The newest line of insurance to join the ‘rates are increasing’ club is workers’ compensation…..

Property/casualty insurance buyers, who have endured price hikes for more than a year in many cases, will likely see rate increases extending into 2021, with some lines continuing to see double-digit rate hikes, experts say.

The size of the increases could be blunted, however, as the hardening market draws new capital and insurers looking to take advantage of the rising tide.

recent survey by brokerage Alera Group Inc., which included insurers, wholesalers and Alera’s agent and broker affiliates, showed an average forecasted rate increase across all lines of 11.6% next year, with increases ranging from a high of 17.5% for medical malpractice insurance to a low of 4.7% for workers compensation.

The survey was conducted in the third quarter, said Mark Englert, national property and casualty leader at Alera in New York. He said the increases are driven by insurers’ attempts to return lines to profitability.

“When you start to go by line of business, you can see why some lines are more aggressive in the request for rate,” Mr. Englert said.

Workers comp, for example, has been profitable for insurers since 2012, and showed an underwriting profit from 2015 to 2019. By contrast, commercial auto was unprofitable from 2015 to 2019 and generated underwriting losses from 2012 through 2019.

In addition, low interest rates have restricted insurers’ ability to make up for underwriting losses with investment income. “Investment income is challenged, so what you are seeing in the carrier community is a real need to drive strong underwriting results,” Mr. Englert said.

Insurers’ “books were not profitable,” said Renee Dube, vice president, national property and casualty practice, in Valhalla, New York, for USI Insurance Services LLC.

In its recently published outlook for the commercial property/casualty market for the fourth quarter of this year and the first half of 2021, USI forecasts that at one end of the pricing spectrum workers comp could rise up to 5%, while at the other end public company directors and officers insurance liability rates may see increases of up to 100%.

The hard market “will probably last for some time,” said J. Paul Newsome Jr., Chicago-based managing director at investment brokerage Piper Sandler Cos.

Mr. Newsome noted, however, that higher rates and premiums are attracting fresh capital, which could help slow rate increases. “Private equity has been quick to try to build new companies, and this might reduce the length of the hard market,” he said.

“Challenging conditions continue to exist across most coverage lines in the U.S., but especially in the umbrella/excess casualty and directors and officers liability market,” said Christopher Lang, global placement leader, U.S. and Canada, for Marsh LLC in New York, in a statement emailed to Business Insurance. “We expect these conditions to persist into 2021.” 

Next year should see “persistent rate increases and solid core underwriting margin expansion for most commercial, especially specialty, insurance lines and for reinsurance,” according to a Dec. 18 report from Meyer Shields, Baltimore-based managing director at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.

“Heightened property and casualty loss cost inflation, pressured investment yields, and rising reinsurance costs should support enduring rate increases for most commercial lines,” he said in the report.