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Gov. Jay Nixon defends aid program for blind Missourians

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 | 3:35 p.m. CDT; updated 6:13 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon speaks with people after his speech Tuesday outside the Services for Independent Living building. His speech was a part of a rally discussing health care programs for the blind.

COLUMBIA — The governor is taking aim at proposed budget cuts designed to increase funding for higher education.

At an event in Columbia on Tuesday, Gov. Jay Nixon called for funding of a program providing aid to blind Missourians to be restored to a budget proposed in the Missouri House.

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"It needs to be restored in its entirety," he said. "The lives of 2,000 Missourians hang in the balance."

The program provides aid for more than 2,000 blind Missourians earning too much to qualify for Medicaid and is in danger of being eliminated in order to restore Nixon's cuts to higher education in a budget passed by the House Budget Committee last week.

"Quite frankly, this is just plain wrong," Nixon said among cheers and applause.

More than 75 people were on hand at Services for Independent Living on Tuesday morning to support Nixon's call to restore funding for the program.

The new budget, introduced in the House by Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, would cut the $28-million program to shift that funding to public colleges and universities.

Silvey's proposed budget would allocate $31 million more to the University of Missouri System than under Nixon's proposal.

The program has a strict asset limit, Nixon said, which ensures that aid from the program is going only to blind Missourians that need it most.

Nixon said he does want to continue to invest in education but argued that no college presidents asked for cuts in aid to the blind to fill a higher education budget gap.

Nixon defended his budget and said that by adding $40 million back to higher education after Missouri joined a settlement with the nation's five largest mortgage companies, no public colleges or universities have filed for a waiver to raise tuition above the rate of inflation.

Blind Missourians receiving aid from the program have basically nowhere else to turn, Nixon said, and often have other significant health issues.

"It's just dead wrong to cut the health care of needy blind people," Nixon said.

Moving forward, Nixon said he hopes that funding the program can be a priority in the Senate.

In a letter sent to the governor Tuesday, Silvey said the administration should contact him to discuss funding education and blind assistance after Nixon completes his "press conferences and campaign rallies."

Silvey also criticized Nixon in tweets Tuesday afternoon.

Last week, President Pro Tem Rob Mayer said the Senate disagrees with Silvey's proposed cuts to funding for the blind and is unlikely to compromise when it reviews the budget.

Before going to the full House, the proposed budget must go through the House Rules Committee. Legislators will take up the budget when they return from legislative spring break on Monday.


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