NC Special Olympics pushes back against proposed federal cuts

North Carolina Special Olympics is pushing back against proposed budget cuts that would eliminate all federal funding-- nearly $18 million-- for the non-profit that supports children and adults with disabilities through sport. 

"We ask federal, state and local governments to join Special Olympics in remaining vigilant against any version of provisions that have made a substantial difference in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities," said North Carolina Special Olympics president Keith Fisburne.

At the Charlotte branch office, Damian Chwalek, 26, is folding medals. 

"I absolutely love it," he said of the program. 

Chwalek has been an athlete, and volunteer, for the past 12 years. He says the Special Olympics, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, has given him more confidence in sports and in life.

"Before I started Special Olympics, I was like a turtle. I was very shy I didn't want to get out of my shell," he said. "Without the Special Olympics he would be at home "bored out of my mind doing nothing," he said.  

Now, according to a Department of Education budget proposal for 20 years, the government is looking to cut all federal funding for the Special Olympics totaling $17.6 million.

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The budget would add $60 million for charter school spending.

"Obviously, it would be a substantial cut," said vice president of development for Special Olympics North Carolina Susan Doggett. 

North Carolina receives nearly $250,000 in federal funding, according to Doggett, to support its Unified Champions program. That brings students, with and without disabilities, from pre-k to college together through sports and other activities. 

If the proposed cuts go through, 40,000 students statewide could be impacted. However, the program is not in jeopardy of shutting down, said Doggett, since a "majority" of its funding comes from private donations.

"We'll begin preparing today to look at the private sector to make sure if it does get cut out of the federal funding," she said, "we're in place in two years to make sure that we'll have the funding in place to offset it."

"As a non-profit, nothing is guaranteed with our funding sources," she added. "So, we'll work day to day and diligently to try to make sure to go and search for those funds in the private sector to make sure programming doesn't get cut."

As for Chwalek, he isn't worried about budgets or funding. His focus is on winning his next golf game.

"It just helps me be me," he said of the program. 

DOE officials say the budget allocates money to ensure students with disabilities have the resources they need inside the classroom. Since the Special Olympics raises more than $100 million annually in donations, DOE officials say, the non-profit does not need taxpayer assistance.