When it comes to federal spending, certain programs are untouchable — and apparently that includes the Special Olympics.
After Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was browbeaten for 24 hours by Democrats and the media after proposing to eliminate the organization’s $18 million in federal funding, Sen. Roy Blunt stepped in by declaring there would be no cuts to the athletic competition for disabled youth and adults.
“Our Department of Education appropriations bill will not cut funding for the program,” the Missouri Republican, who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for education and other agencies, said in a Wednesday release.
His statement came after Mrs. DeVos swung back at the “shameless” attacks by her critics, spurred by a House committee hearing Tuesday that saw her grilled over Special Olympics funding by Rep. Mark Pocan, Wisconsin Democrat.
Mrs. DeVos “didn’t know the number of kids who would be hurt by that cut, so I made sure she now knows that 272,000 kids are seeing their support taken away,” Mr. Pocan tweeted afterward.
The education secretary described herself in a Wednesday statement as a fan of the Special Olympics — “I love its work, and I have personally supported its mission” — but noted that the philanthropy “is not a federal program. It’s a private organization.”
“Because of its important work, it is able to raise more than $100 million every year,” Mrs. 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.”
The Special Olympics has an annual U.S. budget of about $100 million, according to tax documents on GuideStar, and boasts a global revenue of nearly $429 million, as reported by the philanthropy in its 2017 Reach Report.
Still, the progressive website Jezebel reported that Mrs. DeVos had proposed “gutting the Special Olympics.” Sports columnist Jemele Hill tweeted that Mrs. DeVos was “continuing to audition for worst person in the world. How heartless do you have to be to gut Special Olympics?”
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Democrat, called the proposal “immoral.” Rep. David Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat, fired off a letter demanding full funding for the Special Olympics, and Rep. Joseph Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, tweeted, “This will never happen. Full stop.”
This was the third year in a row that the Education Department had floated cuts to the Special Olympics, according to CNN. But even without Mr. Blunt’s involvement, it was doubtful the budget as proposed would have passed the Democrat-controlled House.
Mrs. DeVos said the Trump administration’s education budget included $13.2 billion for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funding, “the same amount appropriated by Congress,” and $225.6 million for competitive grants to support teacher preparation, research and technical aid for students with disabilities.
“It is unacceptable, shameful and counterproductive that the media and some members of Congress have spun up falsehoods and fully misrepresented the facts,” she said.
In his statement, Mr. Blunt didn’t mention Ms. DeVos by name, but described his years of involvement with the Special Olympics, founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
“I’m a longtime supporter of Special Olympics and proud that Missouri is home to the largest Special Olympics training facility in the world,” he said. “I was just at the World Games and saw, as I have many times before, what a huge impact the organization has on athletes, their families, and their communities.”
⦁ Bailey Vogt contributed to this report.