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Special Olympics Ohio expresses concern over proposed federal funding cuts

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CLEVELAND -- The Special Olympics Ohio CEO and staff are pushing back against a proposal to eliminate $18 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics.

"It would be pretty devastating to our athletes, our partners, our staff and families across Ohio if this funding would be lost," explained Josh Messersmith, Special Olympics Ohio Director of Health and Unified Strategies.

Messersmith said statewide, the funding loss would be an estimated $125,000. Money, he says, is used to help serve 22,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities across Ohio.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended her proposal Wednesday after struggling to answer questions by representatives on Capital Hill earlier this week.

"The Special Olympics is not a federal program. It's a private organization. I love its work, and I have personally supported its mission. Because of its important work, it is able to raise more than $100 million every year. 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," Secretary DeVos said in a statement to the press.

During an exchange with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) Tuesday, DeVos stated she did not know how many people this proposed funding cut would impact. The congressman said 272,000 kids would be affected.

It's not clear what the proposed cuts would mean for groups like Lake County's Deepwood Dancers, who just returned from the Special Olympic World Games in Abu Dhabi less than one week ago with a silver and gold medal.

Messersmith said the funding received is used for more than what many may imagine.

"We promote inclusive practices, inclusive options, we're really that resource,  that sounding board for those school districts on how to promote and include individuals with disabilities throughout the day," said Messersmith.

Special Olympics Ohio President and CEO Jessica Stewart released the following statement to Fox 8:

"Special Olympics Ohio is a nonpartisan organization that strongly supports policies, legislation, and practices to guarantee the rights, full participation, and integration of people with intellectual disabilities (ID). We ask federal, state, and local governments to join us in remaining vigilant against any erosion of provisions that have made a substantial difference in the lives of people with ID. 

While it is impossible, at this moment, to imagine the potential impact of this proposed budget on our 22,000 athletes, it is certain that it would hinder the progress made toward ushering in a new world of unity, tolerance, and respect.

For nearly 50 years, Special Olympics Ohio has been building a movement to break down barriers – both on and off the field, in health and education – all through the power of sport. We will continue to work with our constituents and policy makers in all Ohio communities to ensure that the revolution of inclusion persists." 

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