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Our Opinion: For some blind residents, wheels of justice move like molasses

Our Opinion: For some blind residents, wheels of justice move like molasses

March 6th, 2018 by News Tribune in Opinion

Sometimes it seems like, if the wheels of justice moved any slower, they would be going in reverse.

Take, for example, the plight of some blind Missourians to get what is owed them through the Blind Pension Fund.

Established in the 1920s, the fund provides a safety net for blind Missourians whose assets are less than $20,000. It pays roughly $730 a month to close to 3,000 Missourians.

Some who receive the benefits filed a class-action lawsuit, claiming they had been underpaid since 1992.

Now, 12 years after the lawsuit was filed, the state announced it has reached a settlement in the case, we reported on Friday.

The Missouri Department of Social Services has agreed to pay $21 million from a special settlement fund that's being created — $11,478,681 to compensate eligible blind pensioners for underpayments of their benefits, and $9,521,319 to compensate those pensioners for interest on those underpayments.

Last October, Cole County Presiding Circuit Judge Pat Joyce ordered the state to pay $26.3 million, including interest. But the state appealed, and essentially got the interest knocked off the amount.

Now, Attorney General Josh Hawley is pleased with the proposed settlement. So is the Missouri Council of the Blind and the Department of Social Services.

A March 30 court hearing will be the last time for anyone to argue that the proposed amount is not fair. After that, the final step will be for Joyce to approve the proposed settlement.

Even if she quickly does so, the defendants — at least the ones who are still living — won't see the money until early next year. For deceased defendants, the money will go to their estates.

It's unfortunate that it has taken a dozen years to get to the point where this group of people is on the verge of receiving what is owed to them.

Rubbing salt in the wound, the Missouri Legislature is currently looking to reduce the number of people eligible for the benefit, according to The Associated Press. A proposed law would disqualify people whose spouses make over $36,000 annually and those who have driver's licenses. Officials estimate about 225 people would be affected, saving the state about $938,000 annually.

It might be the right thing to do, but the timing sure seems wrong.