Just Leave the Special Olympics Alone

By Mike Hyland, President and CEO

The 2020 federal budget proposal contains countless line items and notations, as is expected in any document so large and overwhelming.  Even in all that minutiae however, one particularly disgraceful item stands out: the call to eliminate all funding for Special Olympics.  Once again it seems that people with disabilities are in danger of being cast aside and left behind so that money can go to others.  Enough already! 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed a budget that would end federal funding for Special Olympics.  As offensive as that proposal is all on its own, her rationale for minimizing the importance of this intentional neglect is absurd.  DeVos stated that Special Olympics “is well supported by the philanthropic community”.  This is true but what the secretary is missing is the whole point of a not-for-profit status.  The Special Olympics, just like provider agencies, is permitted by law to fundraise because the government readily admits that the work is underfunded in the first place.  Taking away those relatively few dollars is a public rejection by DeVos and others of the value of Special Olympics and other organizations that support people with disabilities.  In fact, her proposal would negatively affect close to 300,00 children across the country.

So why is Special Olympics so important?  Because since the ‘60’s, the organization has opened doors and opportunities for people with disabilities in ways that never existed before.  These people were finally given the chance to participate in organized activities that improve health, confidence, and self-esteem while at the same time creating genuine relationships and inclusion.  People with disabilities who were shuttered away for so long now have a bevy of programing choices that span across the world and offer participation and achievement for individuals who were denied these opportunities for generations.  Special Olympics has also worked tirelessly to confront and end the stigma that people with disabilities have always had to endure, giving them a public platform to celebrate their efforts and successes.  It is truly baffling that some in government would choose to make this work even harder than it already is.

Unfortunately, it’s not an unusual step from Secretary DeVos and the administration in D.C.  It’s the 3rd year in a row they’ve proposed slashing funding for Special Olympics, though the first attempt to end funding outright.  It’s difficult to fathom just what those people have against people with disabilities.  The almost $18 million spent annually on Special Olympics is irrelevant in the $4 trillion federal budget, making the annual attack on this crucial funding even more ridiculous.  It’s time that those in power stop seeing the disabilities community as low hanging fruit for budget cuts.  Thankfully, the proposal is not very likely to pass in Congress when the budget is finally done.  What’s troubling, however, is the yearly need to still stand up and try to defend the relative pittance that an organization like Special Olympics gets from the government to provide precious opportunities for so many people.

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