SPRINGFIELD-- Marti Watson doesn't want anyone to feel sorry for her. Even though she was born blind, she said she still has a full life. Her condition, though, does present challenges.
"I don't know what costs other disabilities have, but I know that we have many costs that normally sighted people do not have," said Watson, who is also with the Missouri Council of the Blind.
Watson is worried cuts in state aid to the blind would hurt her and others like her. The House Budget Committee is proposing to eliminate a $28-million program covering health care costs for blind people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.
The panel would replace the plan with a $6-million program where the seeing impaired would receive medical funds based on their financial status, which is the criteria for most people to qualify for Medicaid.
"If you have Alzheimer's, if you have MS, or any number of other special needs, the state doesn't look at you any differently, but we do look at people, for some reason, if they're blind and we pay for their Medicaid regardless of how much money they make," said State Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield.
"'Am I willing to give that up because somebody whose got another disability comes along and says it's not fair?' No, I'm not," Watson countered.
The committee pitched the reduction to reverse Governor Jay Nixon's proposed cuts in funding for public colleges and universities.
Representative Burlison said spending has to be reduced somewhere, because the state is $500-million in the hole and is nearing a deadline for a balanced budget.
He said education is a priority. "At a time like now when people need to be going back to school getting jobs, we need to be turning the economy around. It's either education or it's social services."
But for Marti Watson, no cuts to help the blind is acceptable. "I think they don't know the harm they might be doing, and I'm begging for blind people who are listening please let your voices be heard," said Watson.
The legislative session ends in May, but Burlison said the budget has to be balanced sometime in April.