WASHINGTON, DC (March 28, 2014) -- Members of Congress and state governors are demanding a concerted national response to autism in America following yesterday's release of new autism prevalence numbers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"Today's announcement by the CDC highlights not only the very real, lived experience of families affected by autism, it also speaks to the need for a national strategy to address this issue," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). "I stand with the autism community today and look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to respond to this urgent public health crisis."
During a press conference hosted by Autism Speaks following the CDC announcement, Senate and House leaders called for the reauthorization of the Combating Autism Act (CAA) and enactment of the ABLE Act to help address the "aging-out" issue as an estimated 500,000 children mature into adulthood over the next 10 years.
Enacted in 2006 and reauthorized in 2011, the CAA has dedicated $1.7 billion in federal funding for research through the National Institutes of Health, the prevalence monitoring conducted by the CDC, and detection training through the US Department of Health and Human Services. The law will expire September 30 unless Congress acts.
The ABLE Act, (Achieving a Better Life Experience Act), would allow the creation of tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities to provide for their housing, transportation, job support, education and other needs. The legislation has extraordinary support with 70 cosponsors in the Senate and 350 of the 435 House members.
"To my mind, it’s a clarion call to continue -- in fact increase -- our efforts on the federal level into research and services and support for individuals with autism and their families," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the Senate sponsor of the 2011 CAA reauthorization, during the Autism Speaks press conference.
"I hope we can think about at least creating some new opportunities" in the new CAA reauthorization legislation, Menendez said. "This aging out question is a critical question for families across (New Jersey) and across the country. The challenge on the autism disorder spectrum doesn’t stop at age 18 or 21. It continues."
The House sponsor of the 2011 reauthorization bill, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), also demanded action
"The information is not just disturbing, it is numbing," Smith said. "Statistics are sometimes bandied around Washington and people pay scant notice to it. But this ought to mobilize not just the federal government, but state governments and local governments to work in partnership."
Smith also addressed the aging out issue.
"As aging parents can no longer take care of their children and are worried they don’t have that many years left on earth, they are frightened about what happens to their beloved child," he said. "We need the aging out issue to be addressed and we need it now."
Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA), the Senate sponsor of ABLE, said the response to the legislation is universally supportive in Washington, including President Obama. He credited Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) with raising the issue with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). McConnell signed on as a cosponsor and within hours Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) signed on as well.
"So now you have the leaders in the Senate both cosponsoring a bill, that almost never happens," Casey said.
In addition to Menendez, Smith and Casey, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) attended the Autism Speaks press conference.
The chairs of the Democrat and Republican Governors Conferences, Democrat Pete Shumlin of Vermont and Republican Chris Christie of New Jersey, also issued statements.
"The numbers on the prevalence of autism released today by the (CDC) are another reminder of the great responsibility and urgent opportunity America's governors have to advocate for the autism community," Shumlin said.
“As government leaders, we have a moral obligation to recognize the individual and unique needs of our residents who have a developmental disability and provide them with the tools necessary to lead fuller, more productive lives," Christie said.
For statements from Senators Menendez, Burr, Casey, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), go HERE.
For statements from Reps. Cantor, Smith, Mike Doyle (D-PA), Cathy McMorris Rodger (R-WA), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and Steve Stivers (R-OH), go HERE.
For statements from Governors Pete Shumlin of Vermont and Chris Christie of New Jersey, go HERE.