Supporters in Connecticut say proposal to cut federal funding for Special Olympics is 'like a kick in the gut'
Hartford Courant - 3/28/2019
March 28--Cheryl Yost Fialkoff's 20-year-old son, Jacob, is a proud Special Olympics athlete, competing in bowling and track and field. This summer, he's scheduled to sing the National Anthem at the opening ceremonies of the the state games in New Haven.
So when Fialkoff heard Wednesday morning that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is proposing to eliminate funding for the Special Olympics, "it was like a kick in the gut."
"The Special Olympics is about community, it's about camaraderie, it's about excellence," said Fialkoff, who lives in South Windsor. "It gives our kids a platform to really excel and be a part of an athletic team."
DeVos is calling for a $17.6 million cut to the Special Olympics, a national nonprofit group that runs Olympics-style sports competitions for people with intellectual disabilities. It also oversees community and school-based unified sports programs.
DeVos called the program "awesome," but said it should be supported by philanthrophy, not the federal government.
The cuts are part of a larger reduction put forth by the Trump administration of 10 percent for the education department overall.
The budget needs congressional approval before being adopted, something many political experts say is unlikely.
In a statement responding to criticism on Wednesday, 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.
"There are dozens of worthy nonprofits that support students and adults with disabilities that don't get a dime of federal grant money," she said. "Given our current budget realities, the federal government cannot fund every worthy program, particularly ones that enjoy robust support from private donations."
Devos' proposal has drawn sharp criticism and prompted a spirited defense of the organization on social media from politicians, celebrities, parents and participants in the program.
Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver on Wednesday pushed back against the proposed cut.
"This is not the old Special Olympics, it's not my mom's Special Olympics in some ways," he said on MSNBC. "This is a new special Olympics. We are actively engaged in the educational purposes that the country has articulated at the federal level."
Advocates plan to lobby Congress in an effort to preserve the funding, which constitutes about 10 percent of the organization's budget.
"We look forward to continuing to raise awareness among U.S. government officials about the important work that Special Olympics is doing in the United States and around the world," Special Olympics Connecticut said in a statement.
Members of Connecticut's congressional delegation ripped the proposal.
"Cutting funding for the Special Olympics, a program that does so much good for the 272,000 kids it helps across the country, including many in Connecticut, is cruel, heartless, and unacceptable," U.S. Rep. John Larson said Wednesday.
Larson and other critics say they doubt DeVos' budget proposal will be adopted. "This budget is dead on arrival," declared the Democrat who represents Connecticut's1st District.
On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro also attacked the plan at a budget hearing in Washington. DeLauro, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, said all of the education cuts will hurt vulnerable citizens.
"The administration is not shy about spending and using government when it comes to benefiting corporations and the richest, such as the $1.5 trillion dollar tax scam and crop insurance subsidies, which can go to the richest of the rich since there are no eligibility caps," DeLauro said. "No, Republicans only oppose spending when it aids the vulnerable, when it promotes the common good, or when it makes opportunity real for people."
Cheryl Fialkoff said doesn't understand why DeVos would consider cutting the Special Olympics small federal subsidy.
"This is an amazing organization," she said. "It has a ripple effect for as far as you can see and beyond and it's such a shock that anyone would think to withhold funding. "
This story includes a report from the Associated Press.
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