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Cicilline vows to lead fight against federal cuts to Special Olympics

Providence Journal - 3/27/2019

March 27-- Mar. 27--SMITHFIELD -- U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline on Wednesday vowed a congressional fight to preserve federal funding for Special Olympics, after U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed eliminating it as part of $7 billion in budget cuts for next year.

In a letter that he and others in Congress will sign and send to congressional leaders on Thursday, Cicilline will write that "for nearly 50 years, Special Olympics has helped to remove the stigma and discrimination faced by individuals with intellectual disabilities," according to a statement from his office Wednesday.

"Today, more than 4.5 million athletes compete in Special Olympics throughout the world. However, many Americans with intellectual disabilities continue to face significant challenges. Many continue to face restricted access to health services, are three times more likely to face bullying, and often feel isolated socially due to their disabilities. That is why federal support of organizations like Special Olympics is so critical."

The letter will be sent to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Democratic chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies; and Rep. Tom Cole, ranking Republican member of the subcommittee.

"I remain confident that the funding will be restored allowing us to provide quality innovative athletic opportunities, health initiatives and social awareness in our high schools, our middle schools and our elementary schools," Dennis DeJesus, CEO of Special Olympics Rhode Island, told the Journal.

He added: "I feel the President's decision is insensitive to the intellectual disabilities community."

Nationwide, Special Olympics received $17.6 million from the Education Department this year, roughly 10 percent of its overall revenue. DeJesus said that Special Olympics Rhode Island also received about 10 percent of its budget -- about $160,000 -- from the federal government.

The Trump administration's proposal was unveiled Tuesday in testimony by DeVos, who said that philanthropy could make up for a funding cut.

Her remarks drew a firestorm of criticism, including from sports channel ESPN broadcasters.

In a statement responding to criticism, DeVos said she "loves" the organization's work and has "personally supported its mission." But she also noted that it's a private nonprofit that raises $100 million a year on its own. Ultimately, she argued, her agency can't afford to continue backing it.

-With Associated Press reports

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(c)2019 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)

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