Restored Higher Education Funding Would Require Cuts to Blind

Related Story

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri House Budget Committee Chair Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said during a hearing Monday his proposed budget would reverse a cut to higher education by restoring funding to current levels, although the plan outlined last week would require the elimination of a $28 million blind pension medical benefit.

The benefit provides medical care to blind people who do not qualify for Medicaid, and Department of Social Services official Seth Bundy said it includes more than 2,800 people.

Silvey told the Associated Press the state treats disabilities "inconsistently," claiming it needs to put blind people "on a level playing field" with deaf and paralyzed people who do not receive special benefits. Gary Wunder, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, said his drug costs and co-pays would increase if the proposal passes. He said he was more worried about the people he represents as NFP President, though. 

He said many blind people in the program are unemployed and "have very little money." He also said some even need to pay for extra care and sometimes require expensive technological aids. 

It's not that deaf or paralyzed people are not important, Wunder said. Instead, he said the state should make room for every disability in the budget, rather than simply cut benefits for blind people.

"Do deaf people have to have somebody go grocery shopping with them? Probably not. Do deaf people drive their own cars? Yes. Deaf pople have other problems and they are significant problems," Wunder said. "But they are not the same kinds of problems that blind people have."

On the other side, deputy commissioner of higher education Paul Wagner said restoring higher education funding to fiscal year 2012 levels would be "fantastic" for universities and colleges. After the UM Board of Curators voted last month to increase tuition on all four campuses, Wagner said schools might eventually be able to decrease costs if the general assembly passes this proposal.

"It'll make it more possible," Wagner said. "It just kind of changes the balance that way."

Gov. Jay Nixon originally proposed a 12.5 percent cut to higher education in Missouri, but his recommended budget eventually added $40 million to this area after the settlement of a mortgage lawsuit this winter. 

Fiscal year 2013 begins July 1.