On March 26, United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, proposed a cut in federal funding for the Special Olympic Games based on her belief that the organization does not require federal funding and can make it on its own by utilizing money from other sources such as, private contributions. The United States government provides $18 million to the Games, which typically makes up about 10% of the Special Olympics’ budget. The decision to cut off funding is part of a proposal to 12% decrease in the government’s educational budget, as the Trump administration wishes to focus on funding national defense programs.
“There are dozens of worthy nonprofits that support students and adults with disabilities that don’t get a dime of federal grant money,” DeVos explained, “But given our current budget realities, the federal government cannot fund every worthy program, particularly ones that enjoy robust support from private donations.”
DeVos stated that she has no ill will towards the Special Olympics, as she “[loves] its work, and [she has] personally supported its mission.”
This is not DeVos’s first attempt at trying to cut funding for the games, as she has attempted to do so each year since she’s been selected as Secretary of Education. Each time, however, her attempts were denied by the House Appropriations Committee. However, this is not the first attempt to cut federal funding for the Special Olympics, as the same cut was proposed in the 2009 department budget.
Many were angered by DeVos’s proposal, seeing it as a demonstration of the Trump Administration’s lack of care for more vulnerable programs.
One of the Congress members at DeVos’s hearing before the Committee, Democratic Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, asked the secretary if she knew how many children would be affected by the proposed cut. While DeVos appeared hesitant to answer the question, Pocan was more direct and stated that the cut would affect 272,000 kids.
Pocan himself explained that he has two nephews with autism and said, “What is it that we have a problem with children who are in special education? Why are we cutting all of these programs over and over within this budget?”
Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin commented on DeVos’s proposal, saying that DeVos’s idea deserves a “Special Olympic gold medal for insensitivity,” making it clear that he does not support the proposal.
Tara Baker, the spokesperson for Special Olympics North America, explained that the games require federal funding as it supports the Unified Champion Schools program. The program works to make sports teams more inclusive for athletes with disabilities.
Due to the backlash, before going to a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, President Donald Trump announced to reporters on March 28 that he has changed his mind regarding funding the games.
“The Special Olympics will be funded, I just told my people,” Trump explained, “I have overridden my people. We’re funding the Special Olympics.”
Mt. Hebron senior Vincent Hillkirk believes that the government should not cut funding for the Special Olympics “because this program is important to too many children. If we take that away from them, then it’s a sign that the government doesn’t care about every single citizen or [ about] inclusivity.”
This will probably not be the last attempt by a government official to try to cut federal funding for the programs like the Special Olympics, but it is possible to view both the Committee’s and the public’s reaction as a sign that it will not be easy for the amount federally funded to the Special Olympics to be cut.