A spokesman for blind Iowans is urging the governor and legislators to boost the budget for the Iowa Department for the Blind by half a million dollars.

Michael Barber — president of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa — says the agency has muddled through with a status quo budget for the past five years and services for blind Iowans are beginning to suffer.

“This year there have already been four full-time and two part-time people laid off at the Department for the Blind because of budget concerns,” Barber says.

The agency’s operating with a budget of about $1.74 million this year. Barber is asking legislators to set aside more money for the Department for the Blind, to ensure programs that help blind Iowans adjust to new living arrangements and find jobs are preserved.

“We think it’s high time that Iowa step up to the plate and recognize that programs for the blind are an actual investment in the lives of blind Iowans,” Barber says. “It’s an investment because people who get services, who get vocational rehabilitation services — they go out, they become employed and they become taxpaying citizens instead of welfare recipients.”

Barber was at the statehouse last week, making his case directly to legislators who serve on a key committee discussing the agency’s budget.

“When you look at the $500,000 that we’re talking about, when you consider the whole budget for the State of Iowa — that’s just a drop in the bucket,” Barber says.

Over 69,000 Iowans are blind. Republican Governor Terry Branstad and the Republican-led Iowa House have voted to boost the Department’s budget by $200,000. Democrats in the Senate have voted to boost it by $500,000.