Millions owed to blind Missourians

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COLUMBIA - The state of Missouri will have to find an additional $26.3 million because of years of underpayment to more than than 3,000 blind people by the Department of Social Services’ blind pension fund. 

“I personally feel disappointed in our state for not wanting to help the constituents and better our lives so we can be productive members of society,” said Columbia Tiger Council of the Blind President Jannel Morris. 

Eugene Coulter, social services liaison for the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, said each recipient was paid a few dollars less than they were owed. He said that money adds up when you consider the thousands of people who get the money.

Today, about 3,000 blind Missourians are owed about $728 a month from a levy on property taxes.

Sunday, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Joyce outlined the latest tally owed by the state and says the state could have saved $7 million if it had settled the lawsuit five years ago. 

“It is more expensive for blind people to get transportation and if they’re working or living any kind of a life, braille is more costly than regular print,” said Morris. “Basically everything in our life is a little more expensive than what the average person would pay because it has to be specially done.”

Coulter said the state has to pay interest every day until the case is settled. 

“I would like to see this get behind us so we can move onto other very important issues like getting children the braille education they need, helping blind people get employment and even making it possible for blind persons to vote independently in every single election,” said Coulter.

The state will be paying more than $2 million a year in interest. 

“This case involves a long-running dispute concerning the calculation of certain benefits payable from the State’s Blind Pension program," said Deputy Chief of Staff Loree Anne Paradise. "The Attorney General’s Office is assessing the status of the case following the most recent court decision.”

Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office has until Nov. 6 to decide whether to respond.