Congressman’s Autism CARES Act of 2019 signed into law

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Major autism legislation authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) to authorize $1.8 billion over five years to help children and adults with autism by funding research, early detection and treatment has been signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Smith said the “comprehensive new law,” cosponsored by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) “will fund critical biomedical autism research as well as the development of best practices to enhance the lives of persons with autism. We need answers now and treatment options and interventions that work.”

According to a press release, the Autism CARES Act of 2019:

• Authorizes $1.8 billion, including annual funding for the  National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $296 million, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at $23.1 million, and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) at $50 million. The act also reauthorizes and expands the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC);

• Adds new members of IACC from the separtments of labor, justice, veterans affairs and Housing and Urban Development;

• Uncreases from two to three IACC members who are self-advocates, parents or legal guardians and advocacy/service organizations;

• Empowers the Health and Human Services secretary to prioritize grants to “rural and underserved areas” and

• Requires that not later than two years after enactment, a comprehensive report on the demographic factors associated with the health and well-being of individuals with ASD, recommendations on establishing best practices to ensure interdisciplinary coordination, improvements for health outcomes, community based behavioral support and interventions, nutrition and recreational and social activities, personal safety and more.

Smith said Autism CARES expands government programs to include older persons with autism “who were, and are, often misdiagnosed, underdiagnosed and overlooked.”

According to Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Center,  about 70,700 to 111,600 children “age out” into adulthood each year  creating challenges for education, housing, employment and access to health care.

“Aging out of services is a hurdle every parent or caretaker of a child with autism inevitably faces,” Smith said. “Children grow up and become adults, and then lose their education and support services. But autism is a lifetime neurological disorder and young adults with autism continue to need their services.

“The Autism CARES Act recognizes the problem of aging out and ensures the federal government continues to help hundreds of thousands of young adults with autism and their parents by funding research and support programs,” he said.

Smith stepped up his involvement on autism issues in September 1997 when two constituents, Bobbie and Billy Gallagher of Brick Township, the parents of two young autistic children, walked into his Ocean County office looking for help. The Gallaghers continue to work with Smith on autism advocacy issues, including the aging out issue, according to the press release.