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Senate Approves Bipartisan Deal To Protect Federal Autism Funding

WASHINGTON, DC (July 31, 2014) -- The U.S. Senate tonight approved the Autism CARES Act, which would dedicate $1.3 billion in federal funding for autism over the next five years. The bill was introduced and passed across party lines, and now goes to President Obama for his signature.

"The Senate has now joined with the House of Representatives in sending a clear and bipartisan message -- the federal government will not abandon three million Americans with autism in the midst of a public health crisis," said Autism Speaks President Liz Feld. "Autism Speaks commends Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Michael Enzi (R-WY) for their leadership and commitment to get the job done for the autism community's most important legislative priority. We now look forward to President Obama signing Autism CARES into law."

Autism CARES (HR.4631) enjoyed broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House and passed unanimously by voice vote. Autism Speaks joined with dozens of other national disabilities organizations in urging Congress to act before the law’s expiration date on September 30.

Introduced by Sens. Menendez (left) and Enzi (right) and Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Mike Doyle (D-PA), Autism CARES reauthorizes the landmark 2006 Combating Autism Act for another five years at an annual funding level of $260 million. The funding would be used primarily for autism research grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health; funding also would be provided for continued autism prevalence monitoring; training of medical professionals to detect autism; and for continued efforts to develop treatments for medical conditions associated with autism.

“The Senate’s action today ensures these vital autism programs are reauthorized and continue providing research, services and supports individuals with autism and their families have come to rely on,” said Menendez. “The Autism CARES Act is a model of bipartisan, bicameral cooperation – and I am proud I was able to work on it and look forward to seeing the President sign this critical legislation into law.”

Feld said the Combating Autism Act, enacted in 2006 and then reauthorized in 2011, "has served our community by creating guidelines for the management of sleep disorders, ADHD symptoms, and other medical conditions. Among the many research advances have been progress with anxiety treatments and obesity.

"So much more needs to be achieved, particularly as the incidence of autism continues to rise at such alarming levels and so many of our children with autism start 'aging out' of services and face uncertainty over housing, employment, transportation and adult services," she added. "Passage of this legislation is testament to the dedication of our grassroots advocates taking action with Congress through our Autism Champions web tool."

Feld also commended Reps. Smith and Doyle for assembling and strengthening the Congressional Autism Caucus, which has grown to 150 members in the House and the Senate.

“By passing this legislation, Congress assures individuals with autism and their families that they will not be left behind, and that we are working to assist and empower them,” said Smith. “It is imperative that people with ASD are empowered to be self-sufficient so that they can not only earn money to meet their own needs, but also so they can utilize the talents they possess to contribute to society at large.”

Doyle said the federal government’s autism programs are providing important new knowledge about autism.

"These programs provide information and hope to individuals with autism and their families," Doyle said. "Passage of the Autism CARES Act today makes it possible for those efforts to continue."

Autism CARES would task the federal government with surveying the current landscape of adult services and report to Congress where gaps exist and how to most effectively address those needs.

The bill also would empower the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), a panel with public and federal government representatives that develops and updates a strategic plan for addressing autism, with the task of avoiding unnecessary duplication and making recommendations to implement the strategic plan. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would be directed to take charge of implementing the plan and reporting to Congress on progress.