On September 19, the United States Senate unanimously approved the Autism CARES Act. The $1.8 billion-dollar package will authorize funding for programs at the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Health Resources and Service Administration for five years, reauthorizing a similar bill from 2014. According to an App.com report this month, the bill will fund research, detection, and intervention programs, and will cover the expansion of autism-related activities. The bill will be sent to President Donald Trump on Thursday, when he is expected to sign it into law.
The legislation is a victory for the parents and families of children with autism, offering much-needed funding for the programs and services they require. An estimated 1.5 million children live with autism in the United States, according to App.com’s report, with autism rates spiking in recent years. New Jersey has the highest rate of autism, with 1 in every 34 children identified as having the condition, according to 2018 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
New Jersey Senator Chris Smith was the prime sponsor of the House of Representatives version of the bill. Smith has been an advocate for autism funding and research since 1997, when he met with Bobbie and Billy Gallagher, the parents of two toddlers with autism. During that meeting, the Gallaghers shared their concerns regarding how little was being done to provide funding for autism-related programs and research.
“Nothing was being done for autism — $287,000 was being spent,” Smith said, according to App.com’s report. “That doesn’t even buy a desk with a person behind it.”
This month’s bill is Smith’s fourth autism-related measure to pass through Congress. One stated goal of the bill is to address the needs of individuals who have “aged out” of autism services after turning 21. The bill amends the current law to address the need for research, detection, education, and intervention for individuals with autism spectrum disorder of all ages.
Smith said he is “ecstatic” about the legislation and the benefits it will have for children and families living with autism.
“Every year 50,000 young people who become adults are on the spectrum, and they’re going to need jobs, education, housing,” Smith said. “We’re going to try to make sure nobody is left behind.”