Menendez, Smith autism bill goes to Obama

WASHINGTON – A bill to fund autism research and help young autistic people as they move into adulthood has cleared both chambers of Congress with backing from New Jersey’s U.S. Rep. Chris Smith and Sen. Robert Menendez.

The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent late Thursday after clearing the House by a voice vote in late June. In parts of New Jersey, 1 in 45 children have been identified with autism, most among areas studied in 11 states, according to a March report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The overall rate among 8-year-olds living in the communities studied was 1 in 68.

“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,” Smith, a Republican, said in a news release.

Smith sponsored the bill, which incorporated language Menendez proposed in the Senate, according to Menendez’s office.

The bill “ensures these vital autism programs are reauthorized and continue providing research, services and supports individuals with autism and their families have come to rely on,” Menendez, a Democrat, said in a news release.

The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature.

It would authorize $1.3 billion of federal funding over five years for autism research. It also directs federal agencies to develop plans for autistic children who “age out” school-based support programs and move toward adulthood.

Smith said 50,000 young people with autism enter adulthood every year and join “communities that are unprepared to meet their support needs.”

“It is imperative that people with autism spectrum disorder 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,” Smith said.

Many Philadelphia-area lawmakers co-sponsored the bills.

Sens. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) and Chris Coons (D., Del.) signed onto Menendez's Senate proposal, along with 16 other Senators. U.S. Reps. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.),  Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.) and Allyson Schwartz (D., Pa.) were among the 86 House members to co-sponsor Smith's measure

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