TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – Several years have passed since mortgage fraud forced tens of thousands of Floridians into financial oblivion.

The $8 billion effort to compensate them has reached only half of those affected, the News Service of Florida reported state officials said Thursday.

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The reason has nothing to do with government bureaucrats. Instead, it’s because 49 percent of eligible Florida residents have yet to apply for the aid.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said Thursday the statistic was “frustrating” because she’s trying to distribute the state’s share.

About 50,000 homeowners have secured financial assistance totaling $3.6 billion under a $32 billion national settlement reached with mortgage lenders last year.

Last week, the Joint Legislative Budget Commission approved a $60 million package of relief that will include $35 million in down payment assistance to first-time homebuyers, who under federal guidelines have not owned a home in the previous three years. The maximum benefits of $7,500 can be used to help with closing costs on 30-year, fixed rate mortgages.

Meanwhile, a state-imposed deadline passed Friday for applicants to be guaranteed they would receive the maximum benefits available under the program.

Qualified residents include those who had their mortgage loans serviced by Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. The website is http://www.nationalmortgagesettlement.com/

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On Thursday, Bondi encouraged homeowners to continue to submit claims.

Florida officials were paid $334 million directly as part of the settlement. The bulk of the money, however, goes directly to homeowners in the form of modified loans and reduced mortgages.

Flanked by Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Florida housing officials, Bondi said as of Thursday about 51 percent of eligible homeowners had applied for assistance. Many others however, have not responded to multiple mailers and direct telephone calls advising them that they may be eligible.

“Many people don’t even recognize that they qualify for this money,” Bondi said. “That’s what has been so frustrating.”

Money not spent in-state from Florida’s share of the national settlement will be dispersed to other states.

Lawmakers are expected to decide how to spend about $200 million in settlement funds when they return. Legislative leaders did not have spending details Thursday but said the money would be spent on housing issues including direct financial assistance, credit counseling and other related topics.

“We’re not going to be spending his money on members’ favorite projects that have nothing to do with the crisis,” Weatherford said. “The idea is to focus on helping the people who are in the greatest need.”

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