PARAMUS, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that sets national health policy and the leading advocate in Congress for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their families, today visited ECLC of New Jersey – Bergen P.R.I.D.E. Center to celebrate the passage and signing into law of the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support (Autism CARES) Act. Sen. Menendez authored the bipartisan bill, which, for the first time, considers the needs of individuals with ASD well into adulthood and “across [their] lifetime.” New Jersey has the highest rate of autism, with one in 34 children identified with ASD. The senator was joined today by families, advocates, and leaders in the autism community.

“This legislation marks a major leap forward in federal autism policy by recognizing the lifelong needs of autism. For the first time, I am proud to say the law directs federal programs to address the needs of Americans with autism ‘across their lifetimes,’ from cradle to college to career and beyond,” said Sen. Menendez. “I want to thank ECLC for hosting us today and everyone who joined us in helping us get to this day, a day we can celebrate Autism CARES 2019 as the law of the land. I want everyone here today—and every autistic individual across the state of New Jersey—to know that I will always be your advocate. I will always be your champion. And I will always be your ally.”

Autism CARES 2019 builds upon the 2014 Menendez-authored law, and shapes federal autism policy and investment in research, early detection, and research to develop new treatments and therapies for those with ASD and other developmental disabilities.

One in 59 children nationwide have ASD, according to the latest study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released last year, a jump of 15% since the previous study was conducted in 2016 and up from one in 166 in 2005.

The bipartisan Autism CARES 2019, cosponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), affirms Congress’ commitment to individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their families. In addition to reauthorizing existing federal autism programs through 2024, the legislation strengthens those programs by adding the phrase “across the lifespan” where appropriate to ensure they can address the needs of individuals with ASD and other intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout all stages of life. The provision builds upon key elements of Sen. Menendez’s Assistance in Gaining Experience, Independence and Navigation (AGE-IN) Act that were incorporated in the 2014 law to address the needs of youth and young adults as they transition out of school-based support to independent adulthood.

Autism CARES 2019 also:

  • Authorizes research under the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to address the entire scope of autism spectrum disorder;
  • Designates regional centers of excellence for ASD research and epidemiology
  • Directs activities to increase public awareness of autism, improve the ability of health providers to use evidence-based interventions, and increase early screening and detection
  • Authorizes $23.1 million to the CDC for developmental disability surveillance and research;
  • Authorizes $50.6 million to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for education, early detection, and intervention, and allows HRSA to prioritize new grant applicants in rural or underserved areas;
  • Authorizes $296 million for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for research;
  • Requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide a report to Congress on the health and well-being of individuals of all ages with ASD and other developmental disabilities.

In February, Sen. Menendez visited Quest Autism Programs in Midland Park, N.J., a community-based day program for adults with autism, to announce introduction of Autism CARES 2019. During Autism Awareness Month in April, Sen. Menendez toured LifeTown, a state-of-the-art, 53,000-square-foot, educational, recreational and therapeutic facility in Livingston, N.J., serving the needs of individuals of all ages with ASD, to push for the bill’s passage.

Among those joining the Senator today in Paramus were individuals with ASD, parents, and representatives from The Arc of New Jersey, Autism Speaks, Boggs Center for Developmental Disabilities, ECLC of New Jersey, Eden Autism, KFM Making a Difference, MyGOAL Autism, North Ward Center for Autism, SPAN Parent Advocacy Group, Spectrum 360, and Words Bookstore.

“At ECLC of New Jersey, our goal is to prepare our students for independent living and for a smooth transition from school to young adulthood. We are grateful to Senator Menendez for his work on this important bill to ensure support for individuals with autism throughout their lifetimes,” said ECLC Executive Director Bruce Litinger. “With the number of children being diagnosed with autism on the rise, in particular here in New Jersey, there is an urgent need to focus on ensuring they will lead meaningful, productive lives as adults.”

"With the passage of the Autism CARES Act, we are again reminded that Senator Menendez never lets children and adults with autism be forgotten. He is always at the forefront of these issues—whether it’s protecting Medicaid or fighting for services—and we are grateful for his leadership on this legislation and for the lifeline it creates for people with autism living in New Jersey,” said The Arc of NJ Executive Director Tom Baffuto.

“It was with great admiration that we thank Senator Menendez for his continued leadership as a champion of the Autism CARES Act,” said Deborah M. Spitalnik, PhD, professor of pediatrics and director of NJLEND and The Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “His dedication to individuals with Autism, their families, and those who work on their behalf, has made it possible for New Jersey to have a Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities clinical Interdisciplinary Education Program at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School to remedy the critical shortages of practitioners who can support individuals with autism and their families across the lifespan.”