KTUU: After proposed cuts to Special Olympics, Alaska's Congressional delegation voices support

After the White House proposed a budget that would eliminate federal funding for Special Olympics programs in schools, members of Alaska's congressional delegation say they will continue to support the organization's mission.

Unified Champion Schools is one of several program Special Olympics participants. More than 50 schools in Alaska participate in the program.

"We have many different programs that serve seniors, that serve adults — this is the the one that serves our youth," Special Olympics Alaska President Nicolle Egan said. "Unified Champion Schools is our program that is school-based. It's kids with and without disabilities who engage in sports, recreation and social opportunities. They get together and make their schools more inclusive."

Egan says Special Olympics Alaska receives $50,000 in federal funds for the program. That money covers about a quarter of the cost of the program. Individual donors, school districts, the State of Alaska, and corporate sponsors pay for the rest.

The program has been in Alaska schools since 1999.

"The federal support for us is significant. It has been significant for a long time. It is truly an investment," Egan said. "They've invested in this program, and let's continue to invest because it is actively changing the world. It's changing our culture, it's changing the society, and making us more inclusive and we're making a better state."

Each of Alaska's Congressional delegates have a track record of supporting the Special Olympics.

A spokesperson for Sen. Dan Sullivan said told Channel 2 that the senator is a longtime supporter of the Special Olympics, adding he "supports federal funding for this important organization and will fight to keep its funding."

A spokesman for Rep. Don Young echoed that sentiment:

"Congressman Young is a long-time supporter of the Special Olympics, and watched with pride as Alaska's own Ayesha Abdula-Jilil and Demiko Colbert brought home big wins at this year's Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi. . .Congressman Young has seen the positive impact the Special Olympics has had on the lives of countless people with intellectual disabilities, and will continue supporting the games in Congress."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski also has a history of supporting the Special Olympics. The Senator's office pointed to last year's budget, in which the administration also proposed eliminating funding for specific Special Olympics programs, but the budget Sen. Murkowski voted in favor of increased federal support for Special Olympics. The senator included that funding increase as a "national initiative important for Alaskans" in her summary of the budget's benefits to Alaska.

In a statement Wednesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stood by the administration's position, saying in part:

"Because of its important work, it is able to raise more than $100 million every year. There are dozens of worthy nonprofits that supports students and adults with disabilities that don't get a dime of federal grant money. But given out current budget realities, the federal government cannot fund every worthy program, particularly ones that enjoy robust support from private donations."

Each of Alaska's Congressional delegates noted that the administration's budget proposal is just a proposal, and that Congress controls what gets passed.

By:  Grant Robinson
Source: KTUU