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Betsy DeVos was grilled on Capitol Hill this week over her attempts to eliminate federal funding for the Special Olympics — nearly a year after it was reported she donated a portion of her salary to a disability nonprofit.
The US Secretary of Education has drawn controversy for proposing a 2020 budget which includes a $17.6m (£13.3m) cut to the Special Olympics, a programme that allows disabled athletes to train and compete annually in what is the largest event of its kind globally.
The proposed cut would effectively eliminate the entirety of the federal government’s funding for the Special Olympics. Ms DeVos is also proposing a 10 per cent cut to the total budget for the Department of Education.
“We had to make some difficult decisions,” she said on Tuesday, speaking before the House Appropriations subcommittee on education.
As secretary of education, Ms DeVos received $199,700 (£150,674) in income last year. According to Elizabeth Hill, a spokesperson for the department, the entirety of that pay was donated to four organisations.
Those included the Special Olympics, a faith-based mentoring program, a group providing free eye exams and glasses across low-income communities and an organisation promoting girls entry into the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM.
Multiple lawmakers confronted Ms DeVos over a slate of cuts she has proposed that would disproportionately impact disabled Americans, from scrapping millions of dollars going towards programmes supporting blind children to a reported 26 per cent slash in state grants for special education.
“I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children,” Democrat Barbara Lee said to Ms DeVos during the subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.
“It’s appalling,” she added.
Democrat Mark Pocan also demanded answers from Ms DeVos on Tuesday about the Education Department’s cuts towards programmes for the disabled, including the Special Olympics.
“What is it that we have a problem with, with children who are in special education?” he said, adding that two of his nephews have autism.
Ms DeVos said she was holding the “funding at a level amount and in the context of a budget proposal that is a 10 per cent reduction.”
She also said the Special Olympics was an “awesome organisation,” and was “well supported by the philanthropic sector.”