Months before the nation’s primary autism legislation is set to expire, members of Congress are looking to renew the bill and kick in some extra dollars for efforts related to the developmental disorder.
A bill introduced Monday in the U.S. House of Representatives would extend the Combating Autism Act for five years, allocating $260 million annually for research, prevalence tracking, training for professionals, early identification and other federal initiatives through 2019.
Originally passed in 2006, Congress last approved the Combating Autism Act in 2011 with $231 million per year going to autism efforts since that time. The law is set to expire at the end of September unless lawmakers act to reauthorize it.
“This is a critical investment that is working to determine the cause of ASD, identify autistic children as early as possible to begin treatment, and producing better awareness, new therapies and effective services. The quality of life of many children is at stake, as it is with young adults who age out of the support services in educational systems,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who introduced the legislation along with U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Penn.
The $29 million increase included in the proposal this week would be allocated toward research grants administered through the National Institutes of Health.
In addition to continued funding for research, surveillance, education, early detection and other existing efforts, the proposal calls for the Government Accountability Office to study the needs of adults with autism nationwide.
What’s more, the bill would require that a staffer be designated within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to oversee implementation of the strategic plan created annually by the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. The makeup of the federal advisory panel would also change, with the top Republican and Democrat in both the House and U.S. Senate appointing one representative to the IACC apiece.
Smith and Doyle said the legislation already has a bipartisan group of 35 co-sponsors.
Nonetheless, the autism bill is not without critics. Self-advocates have long complained that the legislation places too much emphasis on research as opposed to critically-needed services and they say that including the word “combating” in the law’s name stigmatizes those on the spectrum.
Meanwhile, a separate bill to reauthorize the Combating Autism Act is expected to be introduced soon in the Senate and an aide tells Disability Scoop that it will vary from the House version.