Autism Act Clears Senate

September 20, 2019

A bill that includes more than $1.8 billion for federal efforts to address the needs of people with autism is headed to the Administration.

The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support, or Autism CARES, Act, on Thursday.

The measure, H.R. 1058, ensures funding for research, prevalence tracking, screening, professional training and other government activities related to autism. It renews an existing federal law that originated in 2006 for another five years.

At present, the current version of the Autism CARES Act is set to expire at the end of September meaning that if a new bill is not signed into law before then, all of the programs covered under the act will end.

The House of Representatives approved the renewal legislation over the summer, but a single senator had a hold on the bill since July, freezing any action on the bill until now.

“It’s nerve-wracking to have it come so close to the expiration date,” said Kim Musheno, vice president of public policy at the Autism Society of America. “So many people depend on the services provided in the law.”

Under the legislation heading to Trump, the government would spend $369 million on autism efforts each year through 2024.

There is added attention in the latest incarnation of the bill to the needs of individuals with autism of all ages with the phrase “across the lifespan” included in several provisions covering everything from screening to research on interventions.

What’s more, the legislation calls for increasing the number of self-advocates, parents and autism group representatives on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a federal autism advisory panel, from two to three each.

The measure would also require officials from the Departments of Labor, Justice, Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development to join the committee. And, it asks the Department of Health and Human Services to produce a report for Congress on the health and well-being of individuals with autism.

“We know autism is a lifelong condition and these unmet needs can and often do continue into adulthood,” said Stuart Spielman, senior vice president of advocacy at Autism Speaks. “The Autism CARES Act of 2019 not only renews federal support for existing autism research and programs but also expands these activities, placing an increased emphasis on reducing health disparities and improving services throughout the life span.”

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