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$1.3 billion reauthorization bill heads to President Obama
WASHINGTON, DC (July 31, 2014) -- The U.S. Senate tonight approved the Autism CARES Act, which would dedicate $1.3 billion in federal fundingfor autism over the next five years. The bill was introduced and passed across party lines, and now goes to President Obama for his signature.
"The Senate has now joined with the House of Representatives in sending a clear and bipartisan message -- the federal government will not abandon three million Americans with autism in the midst of a public health crisis," said Autism Speaks President Liz Feld. "Autism Speaks commends Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Michael Enzi (R-WY) for their leadership and commitment to get the job done for the autism community's most important legislative priority. We now look forward to President Obamasigning Autism CARES into law."
Autism CARES (HR.4631) enjoyed broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House and passed unanimously by voice vote. Autism Speaks joined with dozens of othernational disabilities organizations in urging Congress to act before the law's expiration date on September 30.
Introduced by Sens. Menendez (left) and Enzi (right) and Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Mike Doyle (D-PA), Autism CARES reauthorizes the landmark 2006 Combating Autism Act for another five years at an annual funding level of $260 million. The funding would be used primarily for autism research grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health; funding also would be provided for continued autism prevalence monitoring; training of medical professionals to detect autism; and for continued efforts to develop treatments for medical conditions associated with autism.
"The Combating Autism Act has served our community by creating guidelines for the management of sleep disorders, ADHD symptoms, and other medical conditions," Feld said. "Among the many research advances have been progress with anxiety treatments and obesity.
"So much more needs to be achieved, particularly as the incidence of autism continues to rise at such alarming levels and so many of our children with autism start 'aging out' of services and face uncertainty over housing, employment, transportation and adult services," she added. "Passage of this legislation is testament to the dedication of our grassroots advocates taking action with Congress through our Autism Champions web tool."
Feld also commended Reps. Smith and Doyle for assembling and strengtheningthe Congressional Autism Caucus, which has grown to 150 members in the House and the Senate.
“By passing this legislation, Congress assures individuals with autism and their families that they will not be left behind, and that we are working to assist and empower them,” said Smith.“It is imperative that people with ASD are empowered to be self-sufficient so that they can not only earn money to meet their own needs, but also so they can utilize the talents they possess to contribute to society at large.”
Doyle said thefederal government's autism programs are providing important new knowledge about autism.
"These programs provide information and hope to individuals with autism and their families," Doyle said. "Passage of the Autism CARES Act today makes it possible for those efforts to continue."
Autism CARES would task the federal government with surveying the current landscape of adult services and report to Congress where gaps exist and how to most effectively address those needs.
The bill also would empower the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), a panel with public and federal government representatives that develops and updates a strategic plan for addressing autism, with the task of avoiding unnecessary duplication and making recommendations to implement the strategic plan. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would be directed to take charge of implementing the plan and reporting to Congress on progress.
Bill sent to Governor Deval Patrick
BOSTON (July 31, 2014) -- The Massachusetts Legislature has sent Gov. Deval Patrick an omnibus autism bill that would expand Medicaidcoverage up to age 21 andcreate tax-free savings for people with disabilitiesMassachusetts would expand benefits under its 2010 autism insurance reform law to the state's Medicaid program, under a bill before the Legislature.
Sponsored by Rep. Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill), the bill, H.4373, would require MassHealth to cover medically necessary treatments for autism, including applied behavior analysis (ABA) up to age 21. MassHealth is the state agency that manages Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in Massachusetts.
The bill also would create a state version of the federal ABLE bill by allowing the creation of tax-free savinbgs accounts for people with disabilities to pay for education, housing, medical, transportation and other needs.
The bill also would create a permanent 35-member state autism commission whose public members would include representatives of various diabilities organizations, including Autism Speaks. In addition, the measure would create an autism endorsement for public school teachers.
Bill allowing tax-free savings for disabilities on the move
WASHINGTON, DC (July 31, 2014) -- The House Ways and Means Committee today approved the ABLE Act, which would allow tax-free savings accounts for people with disabilitieswithout jeoparding their eligibility for Medicaid or Social Security benefits.
Sponsored by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), the bill (HR.647), has been co-sponsored by three-quarters of the members of the House of Representatives and championed by the nation's leading disabilities organizations, including Autism Speaks and the National Down Syndrome Society. The bill moves next to theHouse floor in September.
"We will level the playing field for individuals with disabilities and their families so they can take advantage of the same financial planning tools that are available to other Americans,” said Crenshaw (pictured [on right] with Autism Speaks Senior Policy Advisor Stuart Spielman).
Originally introduced in Congress in 2006, the ABLE(Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act would amend Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code to allow tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. Such accounts are now permitted for college savings.
The accounts could be used to cover housing, medical, transportation, edcuation and other expenses.The bill has been drafted to ensure the savings accounts would supplement, not replace,benefits provided through private insurance,Medicaid, salaried employment, and other sources.
At a Senate committee hearing on the Senate version of the bill (S.313) last week, North Carolina autism advocate Bob D'Amelio urged Congress to quickly move the bill. D'Amelio and his wife, Christi, live in Charlotte with their three children, including two sons with autism.
"The current section 529 plans fall short for the many individuals with autism and other disabilities who cannot or choose not to go on to college," D'Amelio testified before the committee. "As much as anything else, the ABLE Act is about fairness. If Christi and I can use a college savings account to provide for our daughter Lindsey's future, why can't we use something similar to take care of Nicholas and Christopher?"