A bill co-sponsored by Jersey Shore Congressman Chris Smith (R - Monmouth, Ocean and Mercer Counties) that will help children and adults on the autism spectrum and their families has been passed and now signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The legislation authored by Representative Smith authorizes $1.8 billion over five years to help children and adults with autism by funding research, early detection and treatment.

Smith said the “comprehensive new law,” co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) “will fund critical biomedical autism research as well as the development of best practices to enhance the lives of persons with autism. We need answers now and treatment options and interventions that work."

The Autism CARES Act of 2019:

• authorizes $1.8 billion—including annual funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $296 million, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at $23.1 million, and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) at $50 million.

• reauthorizes and expands the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC);

• adds new members of IACC from the Departments of Labor, Justice, Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development;

• increases from two to three IACC members who are self-advocates, parents or legal guardians and advocacy/service organizations;

• empowers the Health and Human Services Secretary to prioritize grants to “rural and underserved areas” and;

• requires that not later than two years after enactment, a comprehensive report on the demographic factors associated with the health and well-being of individuals with ASD, recommendations on establishing best practices to ensure interdisciplinary coordination, improvements for health outcomes, community based behavioral support and interventions, nutrition and recreational and social activities, personal safety and more. 

Smith said that Autism CARES expands government programs to include older persons with autism “who were—and are—often misdiagnosed, underdiagnosed and overlooked.”

He cites research from Drexel University’s AJ Drexel Autism Center, that states about 70,700 to 111,600 children “age out” into adulthood each year creating challenges for education, housing, employment and access to health care.

“Aging out of services is a hurdle every parent or caretaker of a child with autism inevitably faces,” Smith said. “Children grow up and become adults, and then lose their education and support services. But autism is a lifetime neurological disorder, and young adults with autism continue to need their services. The Autism CARES Act recognizes the problem of aging out and ensures that the federal government continues to help hundreds of thousands of young adults with autism and their parents by funding research and support programs.”

Bobbie and Billy Gallagher with Congressman Chris Smith at the SEARCH Day Program, a school for kids with autism in Ocean Township in 2015. (Congressman Chris Smith's Office)

Smith began dedicating involvement on autism issues in September of 1997 when Bobbie and Billy Gallagher of Brick, parents of two young small autistic children, walked into his Ocean County office looking for help.

The Gallagher’s continue to this day to work with Congressman Smith on autism advocacy issues, including the aging out problem.

“The Autism CARES Act is yet another hard-won victory borne out of Congressman Smith’s and his colleagues’ dedication to the autism community and bipartisan collaboration,” Suzanne Buchanan, Executive Director of Autism New Jersey, said. “Their work across the aisle and tireless efforts to retain critical components of the legislation remind us what is right and good about our federal government. Individuals with autism and their families are a federal priority, and the Autism CARES Act is a smart investment that will help individuals with autism today and for generations to come.”

Smith said he's grateful to the more than 35 non-governmental organizations that have endorsed his legislation, including the Autism Society of America, Autism Speaks, Autism New Jersey, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, the Children’s Hospital Association, the National Council on Severe Autism, Congress and the National Down Syndrome Society.

He has also authored three other autism laws: HR 4631, the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research and Education (CARES) Act (PL 113-157) in 2014; HR 2005, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA)(PL 112-32), in 2011; and HR 274, Autism Statistics, Surveillance, Research, and Epidemiology Act (ASSURE) of 2000 (PL 106-310) included as part of the Children’s Health Act in 2000.

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