TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Sept. 27, 2013 – Between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday, more than 7,000 Floridians had applied for a government program that could reduce as much as $50,000 of the principal homeowners owe on their mortgage. Once the state receives 25,000 applications, it will shut down the application process. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation plans to distribute $350 million of federal funds to help qualified Florida homeowners who have underwater mortgages. Who is qualified? Homeowners must be current on their mortgages. Recipients can earn more than the area’s median income and can be fully employed. And the unpaid loan amount can be as high as $350,000. With about nine applications being submitted by Florida homeowners every minute yesterday, the website http://www.principalreductionflhhf.org crashed temporarily. More than 100 homeowners called the Orlando Sentinel Wednesday morning, some desperately seeking information about how they could apply. The money comes from $1 billion the state was awarded in 2011 as part of the federal Hardest Hit Fund program. After spending only a fraction of that money, the state announced last week it would broaden its use of the money. The state came under fire earlier this year for putting too many restrictions on Floridians’ use of the foreclosure-prevention funds. In March, federal officials announced an investigation into Florida’s Hardest Hit program after U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., complained that it was poorly run and reaching too few struggling homeowners. Copyright © 2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.