With budget negotiations for fiscal year 2018 well underway, Missouri lawmakers recently adopted a measure to cut a sizable state expense from the spending plan. Many critics are calling the move shortsighted.
State senators last week approved a bill to trim the number of residents eligible for Missouri’s Blind Pension Fund. The benefit program offers a $718 monthly stipend for nearly 3,000 people across the state. But 196 of those recipients won’t cash any more checks—thanks to their driver’s licenses.
The recently adopted changes work to remove any and all current license holders from the program’s rolls. Legislators argue a license wouldn’t be issued to someone who is truly visually impaired. The move is projected to save the state $1.1 million annually.
Advocates for the fund have raised concerns about the idea. They note some recipients may have lost their vision after receiving the license and have been hesitant to give it up. Others have also called into question the timing of the move.
The measure was first introduced in March. Weeks earlier, a decades-old legal dispute between several state agencies and beneficiaries of the pension fund was put to rest: in February, the Western District Court of Appeals found that the Missouri Department of Social Services and the state’s Family Support Division had incorrectly calculated how much money was due to recipients for years. The court ordered the state to repay $21 million to the wronged parties.
That decision is being appealed thanks, in part, to even more information provided by the state’s Department of Revenue. An investigation into the issue by state officials revealed that as many as 436 people currently enrolled in the fund are licensed to drive. That includes one recipient with a commercial driver’s license and a number of others with roadway violations on their records.
“Our team found people in Missouri who were taking money from the taxpayers because they claim to be blind,” Governor Eric Greitens said in a press release. “All while driving, speeding, and even driving drunk.”