JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A judge has ruled that the state of Missouri owes $26.3 million to more than 3,000 blind people who were underpaid by the Department of Social Services’ blind pension fund.

The fund was established in the 1920s to provide a social safety net for the blind. It currently pays 3,000 Missourians roughly $728 a month from a special levy on property taxes. In 2006, the Missouri Council of the Blind sued the state for using money from the fund for other expenses, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .

In her ruling, which was entered last month but made public Sunday, Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce noted that the state could have saved $7 million if it had settled the lawsuit five years ago because she ordered the state to pay interest at 9 percent annually.

“The state will be paying over $2 million a year in interest until they pay people, so it’s in their interest to get the judgment satisfied,” said attorney John Ammann of St. Louis University Legal Clinics, who helped litigate the case.

Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office has until Nov. 6 to decide how to respond.

Chris Gray, executive director of the Missouri Council of the Blind, said the state is “putting off the inevitable” by delaying payments.

“We just need to get on with this and get closure,” he said.

Some of those affected will have the payout added to their monthly checks, while others will receive a lump sum ranging from a few dollars to an estimated $3,000, Ammann said.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com