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The Public Interest Lawyers Fund has collected its first $5,500 for a program that would forgive education loan payments for most lawyers working in the public sector in Georgia. The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 465, the legislation creating the program, last April but didn’t provide funding. Joseph F. Burford of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia said the program must raise $3 million a year in order to cover all 500 public interest lawyers who qualify. The program would forgive up to $600 in monthly loan payments. Burford and Sarah J. Smith of the Georgia Indigent Defense Council are staff members of the loan forgiveness task force. They applied to the Lawyers Foundation of Georgia for a $5,000 challenge grant for the program. The foundation presented the grant money to the fund last weekend at the State Bar of Georgia’s Board of Governors meeting. The other $500 in seed money came from the Dougherty County Bar Association. Kenneth B. Hodges III, Dougherty District Attorney, chairs the state’s task force on loan forgiveness. The program is set up to receive funds from the public or private sector. “The idea is the task force will use [the grant] as seed money for soliciting additional moneys from the private sector,” Burford said. “Hopefully, once we do this, the government will see that we’re not just sitting on our independence and will attempt to fund this bill.” The program’s long-term goal is to obtain full government funding, Burford added. The program is designed to forgive loans for assistant district attorneys, assistant solicitors general, assistant solicitors, civil legal aid attorneys, public defenders, and attorneys who work for the General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Counsel and the State Law Department. Among those groups, Burford said, there are 500 people who have educational loans that average $76,000. That translates into an average of $495 each month in loan payments, and the program would forgive monthly loan payments up to $600, he added. Attorneys would be eligible after six months of employment and would have to agree to work an additional month for each loan payment received. Thus, an attorney who received 18 months of loan payments would have to serve for 36 months, plus the initial six months needed to gain eligibility. The state would require repayment from those who quit or are fired before fulfilling the requirements.

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