More than 350 blind people could be cut off from a special state fund under legislation being considered by Missouri lawmakers. In testimony to a House budget panel, Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, said the state should impose new financial limits on the state’s Blind Pension Fund program and remove any recipient who has a driver’s license from receiving the benefit.
“We want to make sure it goes to the right people,” Wood said.
The state’s Blind Pension Fund was established in the 1920s as a social safety net for the visually impaired. Last year, monthly payments of about $730 per month were paid out to an average of 2,874 recipients.
Under Wood’s proposal, blind people who have spouses making over $36,000 annually or 300 percent of the federal poverty level would no longer qualify for the monthly payments.
An analysis showed that about 196 of the recipients would lose the money if that restriction were imposed.
The proposal also would remove an estimated 161 from the rolls for having a driver’s license.
Wood said the changes, which are backed by the Missouri Department of Social Services, would ensure the program is helping those who need the assistance.
“I don’t want to see the money go to the higher end at the loss of the lower end,” Wood said.
The legislation comes as lawmakers are crafting a $28.7 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 while grappling with slow revenue growth and rising costs of social services and education. Gov. Eric Greitens has proposed cutting higher education by about $70 million in his budget blueprint.
The removal of the recipients is estimated to save about $1.2 million annually.
Opponents of the measure included St. Louis University law professor John Ammann, who has led a lawsuit on behalf of blind Missourians alleging that the state has failed to properly pay recipients for decades.
The long-running legal action on behalf of the recipients is nearing an end after multiple appeals by the state. The state is on the hook to pay out about $26.3 million to pension fund beneficiaries.
For some of those affected, the payout will be added to their monthly check. Others will receive a lump sum payout ranging from a few dollars to an estimated $3,000.
Ammann warned lawmakers against further tinkering with the program, which is part of the state constitution.
“This cannot be eliminated by law,” Ammon said. “We’ve battled this for a long time.”
The legislation is House Bill 2171.