Maine’s congressional delegation said Wednesday they oppose an effort by President Donald Trump to eliminate $18 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics program, a move that Special Olympics Maine said would hurt nearly 3,000 Mainers.

“The Trump administration is sorely mistaken if they think Americans will stand for these outrageous budget cuts to the Special Olympics,” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st District Democrat, said in a prepared statement.

If history is any indication, Capitol Hill is unlikely to go along with Trump’s effort to strip away the nonprofit’s federal aid.

In each of the past two years, Trump sought unsuccessfully to wipe out federal aid for the popular organization. Last year, Congress instead wound up increasing its allocation from $15 million to $18 million.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, left, meets recently with Special Olympics athlete Angelica Bennett, center, and Michelle Bennett to talk about Special Olympics.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, who oversees education appropriations, said in a statement Wednesday that he is a “longtime supporter of Special Olympics and proud that Missouri is home to the largest Special Olympics training facility in the world.
Just back from the World Games in Abu Dhabi, Blunt said he saw “what a huge impact the organization has on athletes, their families, and their communities. Our Department of Education appropriations bill will not cut funding for the program.”

Maine’s junior senator, independent Angus King, called Special Olympics an example of “the best of us,” with “communities coming together to support people with intellectual disabilities.”

In a prepared statement, King said that “anyone who feels this isn’t a priority worth supporting in the federal budget has a different view of America than I do.”

“If there is one bright spot in this awful proposal, it’s that I can’t imagine Congress will support these cuts — the programs are simply too important to too many Americans,” King said.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said there is “strong bipartisan support in Congress for the Special Olympics and its mission to empower children and adults with intellectual disabilities. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I will work with my colleagues to support funding for this important organization.”

Maine Special Olympics said, in a statement posted on Facebook, that the proposed budget cuts “would specifically affect our Unified Champion Schools programming,” which has 107 participating schools and close to 3,000 students in Maine.

The program’s goal, Special Olympics said, is to help “change school climates and cultures in an incredibly positive way.”

“If the cuts were to go through, we would certainly need to find other ways to fund them,” the group said. “They are far too important to those involved” to let the effort die.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston meets with a Special Olympics athlete last month in Maine. Submitted photo

“These cuts would certainly be a significant loss for us and we would absolutely need to find a way to sustain the current and future UCS programs,” the nonprofit said.

In its most recent 990 form filed with the Internal Revenue Service and available on GuideStar, Maine Special Olympics reported that it spent $1.2 million in 2016. During the same period, it raised $1.8 million, almost entirely from private donations, and had a fund balance of $4.5 million.

The proposal to erase federal dollars for Special Olympics is part of the president’s suggested budget, a document traditionally relied on by Congress as a starting place to figure out federal spending for the upcoming year. At best, though, legislators look to it for advice before plunging ahead with their own spending priorities.

Trump’s budget suggestions met with little support when the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress during his first two years in office. This year, the Democrats hold a majority in the House, making the president’s proposals even less likely to get anywhere.

“For Mainers with intellectual disabilities, their families, educators, and volunteers, Special Olympics and special education programs are irreplaceable,” said U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a 2nd Congressional District Democrat.

“I’ll work with Republicans and Democrats to ensure organizations like Special Olympics continue to receive the resources they need,” he said, “so that all Maine kids have access to quality education and enrichment programs.”

In a statement Wednesday, Betsy Devos, Trump’s secretary of education, criticized the media and members of Congress who “have spun falsehoods and fully misrepresented the facts” before proceeding to verify the cuts are included in the budget proposal.

“The Special Olympics is not a federal program. It’s a private organization,” she said.

DeVos said she loves Special Olympics and has “personally supported its mission.”

She pointed out that it raised more than $100 million annually, however, and “given our current budget realities, the federal government cannot fund every worthy program, particularly ones that enjoy robust support from private donations.”

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