CARA 2014 Marches Ahead In Congress Under New Name

WASHINGTON, DC (June 10, 2014) -- Legislation to renew and rename the Combating Autism Act was introduced in the Senate while a House version cleared committee and was sent to the House floor. Renamed Autism CARES (the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act), the legislation is now identical in both houses of Congress and would continue federal funding for autism research and other activites at an annual $260 million level for another five years.

Without action by Congress by September 30, federal funding for autism first dedicated through the Combating Autism Act in 2006 and then reauthorized in 2011, will lapse.

Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) below and Michael Enzi (R-WY) introduced a Senate version (S.2449) of AutismCares which, in addition to the name change, included other adjustments from the House bill ((HR.4631) that was introduced May 12 by Reps. Chris Smith R-NJ) and Mike Doyle (D-PA), the co-chairs of the Congressional Autism Caucus. 

The House Energy & Commerce Committee added the Senate changes to HR.4631, which had been named the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA) of 2014, and then sent the bill to the House floor for a vote.

“The bipartisan Autism CARES Act represents our strong commitment to continuing the groundbreaking work being done to address autism and build the foundation for these efforts for years to come,” said Menendez.

“I am particularly pleased this bill includes provisions based on my legislation, the AGE-IN Act, to better address the needs of individuals with autism as they grow into adulthood and no longer have the support of school-based programs," he said. "I’m optimistic the House will quickly adopt this language as they continue work on their bill so we can speak with one voice about the importance of reauthorizing these vital programs.”  

First enacted in 2006 and then reauthorized in 2011, the Combating Autism Act has dedicated over $1.7 billion to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for research grants, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to monitor autism prevalence, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to train medical professionals in early detection. The House and Senate bill would authorize another five years of funding at the current appropriations level of $260 million.

"Today's action by the House E&C Committee is matched with a major announcement by Google and Autism Speaks to advance significant breakthroughs in autism research," said Stuart Spielman, senior policy advisor and counsel at Autism Speaks.

"This collaboration proves that investments from both the private and philanthropic sectors can provide unique opportunities to accelerate scientific efforts to address this urgent public health crisis," he said.  "The committee's action reflects the ongoing federal commitment to provide a research foundation that is now being leveraged by private partners. Autism Speaks is encouraged by bipartisan leadership in both houses of Congress to reauthorize the federal government's signature legislation dedicated to addressing autism."

Since the House bill was introduced May 12, the total number of co-sponsors has climbed to 75. In addition, 36 national disabilities organizations, including Autism Speaks, have endorsed the reauthorization effort.

Both the House and Senate bills would continue federal funding for five years, reconstitute the Interagency Autism Coordinating Council (IACC) and strengthen accountability over federal research funding to avoid any duplication of effort.

A "National Autism Spectrum Disorder Initiative" would be created by elevating an existing official at HHS to serve as the key point person coordinating the federal government's various autism efforts. In addition, a new study would be commissioned to focus on the needs of young adults and transitioning youth with an autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disability, as well as the challenges they face transitioning from school-based services to adult services.

Changing the name of the law to Autism CARES, Menendez said would "more accurately reflect the nature of the programs without alienating the very people these programs serve."