Federal legislation allocating over $1.8 billion in government spending on autism efforts is one step closer to being approved.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support, or Autism CARES, Act, by a voice vote Wednesday.

The legislation, H.R. 1058, would renew a federal law that originated in 2006 and ensures support for research, prevalence tracking, screening, professional training and other government activities related to autism.

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As it stands, the current version of the Autism CARES Act is set to expire at the end of September, meaning that without action from Congress, programs established through the act will come to a halt.

“Renewal is critically important because Autism CARES is vital to pursuing research and high-quality services for people with autism,” said Stuart Spielman, senior vice president of advocacy at Autism Speaks.

Under the measure approved by the House this week, the federal government would spend $369 million on autism efforts annually through 2024.

One key change in the renewal legislation is its extra focus on the needs of individuals with autism in all age groups. The phrase “across the lifespan” has been added to several provisions in the bill including sections talking about screening and research on interventions.

Additionally, the measure would increase the number of self-advocates, parents and autism group representatives on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a federal autism advisory panel, from two to three each. And, it would require officials from the Departments of Labor, Justice, Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development to join the committee.

The bill would also ask the Department of Health and Human Services to produce a report for Congress on the health and well-being of individuals with autism.

Kim Musheno, vice president of public policy at the Autism Society of America, said the shift to consider people across the lifespan is significant.

“The original law focused on research, surveillance and services for children. The new bill acknowledges that people with autism grow up to be adults, many of whom continue to need supports and services,” she indicated.

Musheno said her group is “extremely concerned” about the potential for any lapse once the current law sunsets Sept. 30 and they are urging the Senate to vote swiftly on the bill.

Besides the Autism CARES Act, the House also approved a renewal of the Lifespan Respite Care Reauthorization Act, H.R. 2035, by a voice vote this week. That bill would provide $200 million over five years to improve respite care services across the country.

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