Despite Law, Funds To Address Wandering Remain In Limbo
Though federal legislation addressing wandering among people with autism and other developmental disabilities was approved as part of a $1.3 trillion government spending package in late March, advocates are still fighting to ensure that the program gets funded.
Kevin and Avonte’s Law is set to provide $2 million annually through 2022 for grants to local law enforcement and nonprofit agencies. These grants can be used to purchase electronic tracking devices for families of those at risk for wandering, or for education, training, notification systems and resources to better address the issue.
However, communities will only be able to take advantage of the grants if the law is financed. Its passage with the federal spending package only authorized the legislation to be funded, but did not provide a source of funding.
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“We’re really excited that this law has finally passed,” said Lori McIlwain, co-founder and executive director of the National Autism Association. “We’re just now in the minutia part where we’re trying to get the actual dollars and make it official.”
Advocates are hoping that the U.S. Department of Justice will allocate discretionary funds toward Kevin and Avonte’s Law so that the program can start this year.
“We’re looking for funds that may exist that have yet to be tapped, so we’re going to be trying to reach out and find out if there are any uncommitted funds that could be tapped for this program,” said Stuart Spielman, senior policy advisor and counsel for Autism Speaks.
The Justice Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment about whether or not funds are available for this fiscal year, which runs through September.
At the same time, supporters are lobbying Congress to establish a dedicated source of funding for Kevin and Avonte’s Law in 2019.
McIlwain said it’s “anyone’s guess” when any sort of funding for the program will be available. “It’s just one of the steps that we have to take,” she said. “Even though it’s authorized, we need to get that appropriation line item there.”
Kevin and Avonte’s Law is named for two children on the autism spectrum who drowned after eloping. Research indicates that about half of children with autism have a tendency to wander away from safe places.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who originally proposed the bill in 2014, will continue to fight to get Kevin and Avonte’s Law funded in both 2018 and 2019, said a senior official in his office.
“Having this program authorized was the culmination of a very, very long effort to recognize the significance of this issue, and so we’re just trying to go through and trying to make sure that these programs can get started as quickly as possible,” said Autism Speaks’ Spielman.