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Missouri Agrees to Pay $21 Million to Shortchanged Blind Residents

Missouri has agreed to pay $21 million to blind state residents who were underpaid from a fund set up to provide a safety net.

The state has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed in 2006 by the Missouri Council of the Blind, which contended that the Missouri Department of Social Services and the Family Support Division miscalculated the amount of monthly payments it sent to blind state residents. The settlement includes $11.4 million toward the underpayments and $9.5 million for interest on those underpayments, Attorney General Josh Hawley announced Thursday.

The Blind Pension Fund was established in the 1920s. As of last month, it paid about 2,900 people about $730 per month, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .

According to the agreement, attorneys for all parties will ask a Cole County judge to approve the settlement during a hearing March 30. If it's approved, payments will begin in early 2019, with some recipients getting monthly increases and others receiving lump sums.

That settlement amount is less than an earlier estimate of $26 million but negotiators wanted to get the payments started after the lengthy court fight, said Denny Huff, president of the Missouri Council of the Blind.

"We really hope that the recipients of the Blind Pension Fund are satisfied with the settlement," Huff said.

State officials also said they were pleased the long court fight is over.

"This issue has been drawn out for over ten years and I am pleased an agreement has been reached without having to delay the issue any longer in court," Hawley said in a statement.

Patrick Luebberging, director of the Family Support Division, said the Department of Social Services "thinks that the settlement agreement represents a reasonable resolution to this long-standing, complex case."

The settlement comes as lawmakers consider legislation that would reduce the number of people eligible for the benefit. It 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.

A House committee approved the bill but it has not been taken up for debate in the full House.