ST. LOUIS — A state appeals court ruling could give a big financial boost to 3,000 blind Missourians.
A lawsuit filed by the Missouri Council of the Blind and seven blind people claimed that over the last 16 years, the state Department of Social Services used millions of dollars from the blind pension fund to pay for unauthorized expenses. The result, the lawsuit said, was a miscalculation that left blind pensioners with too-small monthly checks.
The Missouri Court of Appeals on Tuesday sent the case back to Cole County Circuit Court to consider back benefits that are owed to the blind, said Deborah Greider, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
"This will give blind pensioners more money," said Bev Armstrong, executive director of the Missouri Council of the Blind. "Seventy percent of blind people are unemployed. Whatever they have to live on is difficult enough. For many of them who are unemployed or who cannot be employed, it's a great day."
A phone call seeking comment from the Department of Social Services was not immediately returned.
Blind Missourians who don't get any other aid receive a monthly pension of $609 from the state. Greider believes they should be getting about $1,000 per month.
The Missouri Constitution has required the General Assembly since 1875 to levy an annual property tax to fund the blind pension fund. But Greider said that starting in 1992, the state introduced a formula allowing some of the money to be used for other expenses.
For example, some of the money can be used for rehabilitation services for the blind. But Greider said the pensions should be fully funded first, with leftover money going for rehab services. Instead, she said, the pension fund got the leftover money.
Because the plaintiffs have not had access to Department of Social Services records, the amount of money that has been improperly withheld from pensioners isn't known, Greider said. But she said the amount is likely between $10 million and $40 million.