DeVos Under Fire For Plan To Defund Special Olympics
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is defending her agency’s plan to end federal funding for a program than benefits children with disabilities.
DeVos stood behind a proposal to cut all $17.6 million in federal funding for Special Olympics. Her comments came in response to questions from lawmakers during a House of Representatives committee hearing on President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year, which begins in October.
“I just have to say, madam secretary, you have zeroed out Special Olympics once again. I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children in your budget. You zero that out. It’s appalling,” Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., told DeVos during the hearing.
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Subsequently, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., sought answers from DeVos about the plan.
“Do you know how many kids are going to be affected by that cut?” Pocan asked.
“We had to make some difficult decisions with this budget,” DeVos said before acknowledging that she did not know the number.
“It’s 272,000 kids that are affected,” Pocan informed her.
“I think that Special Olympics is an awesome organization, one that is well supported by the philanthropic sector as well,” DeVos added.
This is not the first time that Trump’s budget proposal has eliminated funding for Special Olympics. Congress has rejected previous calls from the administration to defund the program.
DeVos noted that the Education Department budget request includes level funding for grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act at $13.2 billion within a spending plan that reflects a 10 percent reduction overall. However, advocates have warned in the past that maintaining funding does not necessarily yield the same services since it does not account for inflation.
The education secretary has been supportive of Special Olympics in other ways, having donated a portion of her salary to the nonprofit last year.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, DeVos sought to further clarify her position. She highlighted that Special Olympics is a private organization — not a federal program — that raises over $100 million annually.
“I love its work, and I have personally supported its mission,” DeVos said. “There are dozens of worthy nonprofits that support students and adults with disabilities that don’t get a dime of federal grant money. But given our current budget realities, the federal government cannot fund every worthy program, particularly ones that enjoy robust support from private donations.”
Still taking heat for the proposed cut, however, DeVos told a Senate panel Thursday that she “didn’t personally” approve the plan.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have indicated that they will not support eliminating Special Olympics’ funding in the budget bill that ultimately moves through Congress.
For their part, Special Olympics said that federal funding pays for programing promoting social inclusion in 6,500 schools across the country that is distinct from the sporting events the organization is most known for.
(Updated: March 28, 2019 at 4:42 p.m. ET)