Congress Urged To Increase Spending On Autism

by Michelle Diament, Disability Scoop | May 25, 2021

A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers is pushing for additional government funding next year for autism initiatives. (Thinkstock)

Dozens of members of Congress are calling for the federal government to significantly ramp up its investment in autism-related activities by spending an additional $150 million on the developmental disorder.

The bipartisan request comes in a recent letter to leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. The 90 members who signed the correspondence are hoping to see the additional funds included in appropriations for a handful of federal agencies for the next fiscal year, which starts in October.

The lawmakers said the extra spending would help make good on recommendations from the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a panel of government officials and autism stakeholders charged with advising the secretary of health and human services and coordinating federal activities related to the developmental disability.

In its most recent strategic plan from 2017 the committee said that federal spending on autism should double by 2020 to reach $685 million. At the time, the panel noted that federal funding for autism pales in comparison to spending on Alzheimer’s disease and AIDS.

Nonetheless, a 2019 renewal of the Autism CARES Act — which allocates funding for research, prevalence tracking, screening, professional training and other government activities related to autism — included just $369 million annually for autism efforts through 2024.

Now, the letter indicates that extra money should go toward autism efforts at the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Administration for Community Living and the Department of Labor. The added investment could be used to expand autism monitoring efforts, provide for new clinical standards to be developed, support those transitioning to adulthood and pay for research on issues facing those on the spectrum across the lifespan, among other efforts, the lawmakers said.

“We appreciate the spending constraints that the committee and our nation face and the difficult decisions involved in putting together the annual appropriations bills,” wrote Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., and Christopher Smith, R-N.J., and their colleagues. “However, there are tremendous opportunities to build off existing programs and shore up the gaps in research and services and follow through on the comprehensive recommendations of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee.”

Autism Speaks said the letter generated support from a record number of House members.

“This show of support demonstrates the momentum that has been building amongst members of Congress to significantly enhance the federal commitment to addressing challenges faced by the autism community,” said Stuart Spielman, the groups’ senior vice president of advocacy.

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