The Missouri Senate approved new restrictions Wednesday to the state’s blind pension fund.

The bill, approved in a 23-9 vote, would limit which blind residents were eligible for monthly payments of more than $700 and Medicaid benefits. Anyone with a spouse making more than 500 percent of the poverty level, or who did not submit to certain vision tests or who had a valid driver’s license, would be ineligible.

Republican Sen. David Sater said the changes were needed in order to ensure the sustainability of the fund.

“I want this blind pension fund to go on forever,” he said.

The proposal would also give the Department of Social Services flexibility to determine what tests people needed to take, and removes the requirement that the pension be increased every year.

John Ammann, a lawyer who represents the Missouri Council of the Blind, criticized the proposal.

“This bill would undo the result we achieved after a decade of litigation,” Ammann wrote in a statement, because “it gives unfettered discretion to a state agency.”

The fund has long been the source of controversy.

In March, a judge approved a $21 million settlement between the state and pensioners who said they’d been underpaid for years. That largely ended a lawsuit filed more than 10 years ago by the Missouri Council of the Blind against the Family Support Division and the Department of Social Services.

Earlier that month, GOP Gov. Eric Greitens announced an audit had flagged more than 400 people using the fund who also had driver’s licenses. In a statement, Greitens said the Department of Social Services opened investigations into at least 100 of those cases, including one person who was charged with driving while intoxicated and another who had a commercial driver’s license.

The House approved a version of this bill earlier in the year on a 134-6 vote. Because the Senate also amended the measure Wednesday, it now heads back to the House for another vote.


The bill is HB 2171

AP reporter Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri contributed to this report.

Missouri State Capitol - Jefferson City
Kurt Parsons

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