Special Olympics Florida

How will proposed budget cuts affect Special Olympics in Central Florida?


It’s a story making national headlines.  Proposed budget cuts from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would slash Special Olympics funding.

Special Olympics of Florida has grown significantly. In the past seven years, it has more than doubled the number of athletes who participate.

“We’re now reaching over 50,000 athletes in the state of Florida, but as I mentioned, there’s over 300,000 with an intellectual or developmental disability in Florida, and every dollar counts, so it will help us reach even more people,” said CEO of Special Olympics of Florida, Sherry Wheelock.

Wheelock is stressing that every dollar counts after DeVos proposed cutting federal funding for Special Olympics in next year’s budget. It’s a total of about $18 million.

Wheelock said last year, Florida’s Special Olympics received only $200,000 in federal funds, which seems a small percentage of their approximately $17 million budget.

But she argues losing even a few hundred thousand dollars will have a negative impact.

“Every dollar counts, and I think every dollar matters because you can use in-kind dollars to multiply the impact of dollars that come from state, federal level and corporate partnerships,” Wheelock said.

Among those concerned about the possible cuts is Maryann Gonzalez, 54, who has competed in Special Olympics for 46 years and is on staff with the organization.

She said for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Special Olympics can be a life changer.

“This makes them part of the society, this makes them part of the world. They are being included and given opportunities they would not have if Special Olympics were not here,” Gonzalez said.

Just last month, it was announced Orlando will host the Special Olympics USA Games in 2022. The games are estimated to have a $61 million impact on Central Florida’s economy.

The potential loss of $18 million from the federal government is estimated to represent about one-tenth of Special Olympics’ total budget.

Learn more about the impact of Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools.