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Obama Budget Brings Mixed Bag For People With Disabilities

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(Updated: February 14, 2011 at 5:59 PM CT)

Special education appears to be a bright spot for Americans with disabilities in the president’s $3.73 trillion budget proposal released Monday.

In a plan featuring flat or reduced spending for many programs, special education got a boost. President Barack Obama included $200 million in extra funds for state grants for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, and added $50 million to help young children with disabilities.

The increase is “modest” for an $11.5 billion program, says Deb Ziegler of the Council for Exceptional Children, which lobbies on behalf of special educators. But, she adds, “in this budget climate, we’re appreciative of anything we get.”

Other programs for Americans with disabilities are likely to fare worse. Under Obama’s proposal, funding to ensure voter access for people with disabilities will be eliminated. And there will be $104 million less in federal money available to build new housing for those with disabilities.

What’s more, a program that administers federal grants to promote the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in the community is slated to be cut nearly in half.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s very concerning,” says Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “Everybody recognizes that these are difficult fiscal times but we need to make sure that we aren’t sacrificing the long-term rights and opportunities for people with disabilities.”

Entitlement programs like Social Security were left largely untouched. But Obama is proposing a $40 million pilot project designed to wean children from the Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, program by providing grants to help improve children’s outcomes.

Meanwhile, the budget maintains funding for ongoing research into autism spectrum disorders.

The proposal presented Monday represents the president’s funding request for fiscal year 2012, which begins in October. At present, Congress is still considering spending for the current fiscal year, a more pressing concern for many disability advocates.

Late last week, congressional Republicans proposed slashing special education by $557.7 million for 2011 alongside other cuts.

“I think the threat is very real,” says the Council for Exceptional Children’s Ziegler. “The quality of services for students is in jeopardy.”

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