Trump pulls back on $17.6M cut to Special Olympics funding

UPDATE March 28 at 5:30 p.m.: The Associated Press reported that President  Donald Trump has pulled back on eliminating funding for the Special Olympics. The decision comes after days of criticism on the proposed elimination.

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“I’ve overridden my people for funding the Special Olympics,” Trump told reporters Thursday.

Despite defending the cuts to Congress Tuesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos claimed in a statement that she had been defending funding the Special Olympics.

"I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye-to-eye on this issue, and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant," DeVos said in a statement, according to CNBC. "This is funding I have fought for behind-the-scenes over the last several years."

Credit: Susan Walsh

Credit: Susan Walsh

Cutting the Special Olympics would have eliminated $17.6 million in funding for the group, which is 10 percent of its overall income.

Original report:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended to Congress on Tuesday $7 billion in funding cuts to education programs, including $18 million from the Special Olympics, and an increase in funding for charter schools.

Speaking before a House Appropriations Subcommittee, DeVos answered questions about what would amount to an overall 10 percent education budget reduction, Yahoo News reported. In addition to suggesting cuts to the Special Olympics fund, DeVos' budget also cut money from state grants for special education and programs for students who are blind.

Conversely, the budget would raise funding for charter schools by $60 million.

“Do you know how many kids are going to be affected by that (Special Olympics) cut, Madam Secretary?” Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., asked DeVos.

DeVos said the Trump administration had to “make some difficult decisions” regarding the budget, and then admitted she didn’t know how many children would be affected.

“It’s 272,000 kids,” Pocan interjected.

“Let me just say that I think Special Olympics is an awesome organization, one that is well supported by the philanthropic sector as well,” DeVos said.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., noted while questioning DeVos that previous proposed budgets also called for cuts to the Special Olympics.

"I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children in your budget," Lee said. "You zero that out. It’s appalling.”

DeVos, a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman, has long been an advocate for charter schools: independently run, publicly funded schools that typically aren't as closely regulated as traditional schools, the Detroit Free-Press reported. In addition to increasing charter school funding by $60 million, the proposed budget would create a tax credit for individual and companies that donate to scholarships for private schools.

The Special Olympics commented on the matter with the following statement:

“We ask federal, state and local governments to join Special Olympics in remaining vigilant against any erosion of provisions that have made a substantial difference in the lives of people with ID (intellectual disabilities). As is the case each year after the President presents his budget to Congress, we engage in opportunities, such as our annual Capitol Hill Day activities, to educate lawmakers about why grant funding for our health and education programming is critical to protecting and increasing access to these services for people with intellectual disabilities. 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.”

The Detroit Free-Press noted that even with a Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives for the previous two years, many of DeVos’s proposals for budget cuts weren’t approved. With Democrats now in the majority, this year’s cuts are less likely to pass.

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