Missouri voters will decide Tuesday whether to become the fifth state to allow some of its lottery proceeds to go toward funding veterans’ needs.
Missouri has the nation’s 15-largest population of veterans and has seven veterans homes for them -- ore than any other state except California and Texas, which both have eight. (Florida and Oklahoma also have seven facilities each, according to the National Association of State Veterans Homes.) Still, more veterans are waiting for a spot in a home than actually living in one. Nearly 1,800 are on the wait list while just 1,350 Missourians are living in a veterans home.
Currently, all of the Missouri Lottery’s proceeds go toward education funding. If voters approve the proposed measure, the state will create a new scratch-off lottery ticket especially for veterans and all earnings from it would go into the Veterans Commission Capital Improvement Trust Fund. The Missouri National Education Association has said it does not oppose the amendment but some, like Kansas City Democrat Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, say the lottery is an inefficient and unpredictable money source. The sponsor of the legislation creating the amendment said the new scratch-off can help fund an additional facility for retired veterans, provide for better up-keep at veterans cemeteries and restore funding for outreach programs that help veterans receive their pensions or other social services benefits.
"Especially for those younger veterans coming home today with a brain injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, we want to make sure they get get in touch with what’s available to them," said Rep. Sheila Solon, a Republican from the Kansas City suburb of Blue Springs.
She added that since 2012 the state has maintaining veterans homes through fees paid by veterans and a portion of a $2 entrance fee charged at the state's casinos. But casino business is on the decline and Solon said lawmakers' attempt to add $8 million in this year's budget for veterans failed. "The ticket is the least we can do for the veterans who have done so much for the freedom we all enjoy," she added.
Currently, just Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Texas direct some lotto proceeds into a veterans’ fund. The results have been mixed. Iowa has generated a steady about $2 million to $3 million each year since 2009 but Illinois’ sales have dropped from about $2.5 million in 2008 to $715,000 in 2013.
Washington State attempted to use its lottery in 2010 to raise $300,000 for its veterans department with a special raffle ticket offered during the summer but failed even to raise half of its goal. After an equally disappointing attempt the following year, the legislature ended the program altogether.