Nixon Reverses Benefit Cuts for Blind

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon reversed plans Monday to reduce the state’s monthly benefits to blind residents, saying he instead will ask legislators to approve additional money to make up for a shortfall in the program.

Nixon said he ordered the Department of Social Services to drop the planned cutbacks, which were to take effect in January.

His action came after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported earlier Monday that the department had told all 3,847 people receiving checks through the program to expect a $33-a-month reduction. The department had said the cuts were necessary because payments were exceeding the property tax revenues collected by the fund.

“After being briefed about the Department of Social Services’ plans to reduce this assistance, I have directed them to abandon their plans, so that no blind Missourian will have their pension reduced,” Nixon said in a written statement.

The Democratic governor said he would ask the Republican-led Legislature to approve a supplemental budget appropriation for the program when it convenes in January.

Missouri’s Blind pension program was created in 1921. Recipients receive a monthly payment of up to $718, as well as state-funded health care.

It’s funded with a statewide property tax of 3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Last year, the tax raised $29.82 million, down slightly from $29.98 million the previous year.

Nixon said the expected cost of the pension program is $32 million during the current year, but the fund is projected to have just over $31 million from tax revenues and its available cash balance. The governor said he will ask lawmakers to cover the gap with other state funds.

Annual benefit increases have been the norm over the years, because the state’s assessed valuation usually increases due to construction and higher property values. That has boosted the blind pension from a maximum of $489 a month in 2005 to the top benefit of $718 now, the Post-Dispatch reported. But since 2008, the statewide assessed valuation of property has teetered up and down. Thus, collections for the pension fund have dipped or generally remained flat. That has required the fund to rely on its fund balance.

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