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TALLAHASSEE, Florida - Florida is preparing to hand out $35 million in mortgage assistance to Florida home buyers as a result of the national mortgage settlement.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced Thursday that the money is available to first-time homebuyers for help with down payments. Another $25 million will go toward housing counseling, legal aid programs and the state court system to help with a backlog of foreclosure cases.

On top of that $60 million, Florida has another $200 million from the settlement that state lawmakers will decide how to spend. House Speaker Will Weatherford promises the cash will be set aside for housing-related needs.

"We're not going to be spending this money on members' favorite projects that have nothing to do with the crisis. The idea is to focus the resources on helping the people who are in greatest need."

Weatherford expects to take a "listening tour" around Florida to hear from people affected by foreclosures.

He intends to take that information and develop a plan for the $200 million. Possible uses include: foreclosure prevention, neighborhood revitalization, affordable housing, home buyer or renter assistance, housing counseling and other housing-related programs.

Florida has already received $3.6 billion in mortgage relief from the settlement, which has mainly gone for principal reductions. Bondi says 50,000 Floridians who lost their homes due to unfair foreclosure practices have received an average of $73,000 apiece from the settlement.

But tens of thousands of Floridians are still eligible for payments and Bondi says too many are not responding to her office's letters and calls.

"It's so frustrating to me because these people deserve this money. They're owed this money. That's a lot of money to each person."

If you have questions about eligibility for mortgage relief, go online to www.NationalMortgageSettlement.com or call 1-866-430-8358.

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