The Bill: H.R. 4631, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2014
Cost Per Year: $29 million ($145 million over five years)
Number of Cosponsors: 71 House Members
Autism is a neurological disorder that inhibits brain development to varying degrees, especially in the areas of verbal communication and social interaction. It’s estimated that autism affects one in 50 children between the ages of 6-17 years old, and statistics show that diagnoses have become more frequent in recent years. In 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Combating Autism Act, which provided nearly $1 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state and local agencies to conduct research on treatment options and to raise awareness about early detection. In 2011, President Obama signed legislation that reauthorized the bill’s provisions through 2014. The bill has provided almost $1.7 billion in total funding since it was originally enacted.
As those authorizations are set to expire, Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) has introduced a bill that would extend those programs for another five years. H.R. 4631 would continue the original legislation’s provisions through 2019 at current funding levels except for the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), which would see an increase of $29 million per year. The Committee is tasked with providing information to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on any federal activity that relates to autism research or outreach. Additionally, the bill would create within HHS a new National Autism Spectrum Disorder Initiative, a five-member board appointed by Congress that would oversee a strategic plan for future research programs and objectives.
Congressman Smith said that the bill would preserve functions critical to improving public health, stating in a press release that “[t]his is a critical investment that is working to determine the cause of Autism Spectrum Disorder, identify autistic children as early as possible to begin treatment, and producing better awareness, new therapies and effective services. The quality of life of many children is at stake, as it is with young adults who age out of the support services in educational systems.”
Recently the IACC released a report to Congress on the progress it made over FY 2010-2012 in accomplishing the Combating Autism Act’s (CAA) goals. It includes detailed breakdowns of how each of the 9 agencies within HHS spent CAA funds. The report claimed that NIH funding “... has improved the ability to screen and diagnose [autism] earlier in life; advanced our understanding of the potential causes of autism; and informed innovative treatments, interventions, and services for individuals with [autism].”
Cosponsors include 30 Democratic and 41 Republican Representatives.
The Bottom Line: The Combating Autism Reauthorization Act would extend funding at current levels for several autism research and outreach efforts, and provide additional strategic management and oversight for those programs, totaling $145 million over five years in new spending.