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City Council member Warren Jones has a bill in committee that would help fund Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Sep. 26, 201412:00 PM EST

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid may soon get funding from the city

by: David Chapman

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid next year won’t receive $443,000 from the city through a match program, but help could still be on the way.

City Council member Warren Jones has a bill in committee to provide the legal provider for low-income residents with $200,000 from the city’s foreclosure registry to provide help in foreclosure prevention. The registry requires registration — including a fee — and maintenance of foreclosed and abandoned properties. That includes bank and other mortgage holders.

Jones and council member Bill Gulliford met with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Executive Director Jim Kowalski on how Jones’ bill could be combined with the match program Gulliford pitched in July. That legislation has the city providing a dollar-for-dollar match up to $1 million of privately raised funds.

During the budget discussions, council slashed next year’s anticipated amount of $443,000, which would have been next year’s match. Gulliford’s bill, like Jones’, is still at the committee level.

For the short term, the $200,000 would be considered a match moving forward.

“There is a nexus between the foreclosure registry and foreclosure counseling,” Jones said. “If we can keep people in their homes, then we are helping the industry.”

Longer term, Gulliford and Jones are seeking a way to have the foreclosure registry become a permanent funding source for legal aid.

They’ve asked Assistant General Counsel Stephen Durden to review other ways in which funds from the foreclosure registry can be used. Complicating matters, though, is a federal ruling in Chicago that said foreclosure registries violate the Constitution.

The $200,000 for foreclosure prevention has been used locally in the past and would likely be OK because it’s mimicking past legislation.

Legal aid will receive $236,000 through public service grants this year for homeless prevention and disability rights. Another $247,000 will come from court fees.

But, the low-income service provider has still faced funding shortfalls resulting in cutbacks and furloughs. Those furloughs started Sept. 1, keeping the office closed Fridays through December 2015. Six people have been notified of impending layoffs.

There have been missed funding opportunities elsewhere.

Gov. Rick Scott again rejected $2 million for legal aid services statewide. Also, the Florida Bar Foundation, another large funding source, through its Interest on Trust Accounts program hasn’t readily been replenished because of several years of a down economy.

Jones’ bill will be heard by the Finance and Recreation, Community Development, Public Health and Safety committees.

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