Last week our local news station decided to make a political statement on the back of our local Special Olympics program. As the parents of two children with special needs, this story rattled us. For years, we have been trying to navigate the services our community offers for our children with special needs and have been overwhelmingly disappointed in the lack of municipal support we have found for people living with disabilities. So when the Special Olympics became the target of a political discussion as to whether city tax dollars should be used to fund private non-profits, we decided it was time to take a stand.
We have listened to both sides of the argument and want to be part of a solution — after all, the Special Olympics is a huge part of our lives.
As we began investigating the situation, we learned that New Hanover County has the largest population of people living with a disability in our state. With an estimated 1 in 5 people living with a disability, we began questioning why our city doesn’t do more to support this population. With an $88 million dollar general fund city budget, we estimated that less than $90,000 is allocated annually to our city’s special needs community. Based on those figures, our city is spending a little over $5 a year on each of its community members with special needs. In sharp contrast, our city is spending 200 times that on services for its typically developing population.
The argument that city tax dollars should not be used to support Special Olympics and their fund raising efforts has been made on the grounds that the city does not do this for other private non-profits. I ask you this . . . without the Special Olympics what city-supported programs remain that specifically serve individuals with disabilities?
The answer is next to nothing.
People with disabilities face all kinds of obstacles including securing housing, finding employment, learning life skills and continuing education. Sadly, our city does not provide any financial support for any of these needs. Meanwhile, our city does fund programs that help the other 4/5ths of its citizenry do these very same things.
The fact that the Special Olympics solicits and receives private donations enables them to provide valuable services to our community – services that the city does not otherwise provide. 100% of the money that is raised through their fund raising efforts goes directly back into New Hanover County Special Olympics, which serves our city’s special needs population.
If were going to have an argument about whether our city tax dollars should support non-profits, then let’s have it. Let’s talk about whether our city council should have the ability to allocate funds to private organizations (or if the city should create their own version of the Special Olympics and find the budget to make it happen) but let’s not do it on the back of the Special Olympics.
Without the Special Olympics, I’m afraid our city would be doing little to nothing to serve 1 out of every 5 of its citizens and that’s not acceptable.