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Posts Tagged ‘U.S. House of Representatives’

CARA: It Took a Community

September 28, 2011 5 comments

This is a guest post by Peter Bell, the executive vice president for programs and services at Autism Speaks. He oversees the foundation’s government relations and family services activities and also serves as an advisor to the science division.

I couldn’t be happier to share once again the news that we all had been waiting for…the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act is on its way to President Obama. Late Monday night, the U.S. Senate passed HR2005, the same bill that passed the House of Representatives last week.

For those who followed the chain of events during the past week, the band of four Senators who had placed a “hold” on the bill agreed to allow CARA to pass the Senate under the Unanimous Consent procedure. Their only condition was a request to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to undertake an investigation on the federal funding of autism research, a request Autism Speaks has long supported to ensure our scarce federal research funds are spent wisely.

So now we have a law…well technically it becomes a law once President Obama signs it later this week!  $693 million in authorizations for autism research for the next three years.

Our success in the Senate this week and the House of Representatives last week was the result of a rare show of bipartisan leadership in today’s Congress. In the Senate, we thank our two original sponsors, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mike Enzi (R-WY), along with the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also earn our thanks by enabling our bill to move through a crowded agenda and on to the Senate floor for a final vote. In the House of Representatives, a team effort between Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the prime sponsor of HR.2005, and Mike Doyle (D-PA) was assisted by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) who expedited consideration of the bill.

But this team effort extended well beyond the Beltway. The tens of thousands of Autism Speaks grassroots supporters and advocates across the United States who we called upon time and time again to make their voices heard played a central role in this success. A special thanks goes out to the entire Autism Speaks Field team for its incredible responsiveness and for rallying the troops from Maine to Florida, Texas to Minnesota and from Washington to the Tijuana border. Our grassroots efforts have never been better! And our thanks must also go to our partner organizations in this effort, the Autism Society of America, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, Easter Seals, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities.

The final enactment of CARA will be of enormous benefit to the autism research community that is making advancements on an almost daily basis. Because of CARA,  the research enterprise will be able to continue to grow, without interruption, to find the answers our community so desperately needs and deserves.

On behalf of the 3 million Americans who wake up every day with the challenges of autism, the professionals who work daily to care for them, the scientists who are dedicating their careers to finding the answers and all of those who are committing their lives to improve the futures for those living with autism, thank you!  Today is a better day because of what WE ACCOMPLISHED TOGETHER.

Tell Congress to Pass the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act

September 21, 2011 4 comments

Ursitti is the director of State Government Affairs at Autism Speaks and is the mother of two children, 8-year-old Jack and 11-year-old Amy. She lives just outside of Boston and has been involved in autism advocacy since Jack’s autism diagnosis 6 years ago. She writes a personal blog called Autismville.

Judith Ursitti and her son, Jack

“I’m not giving up on this kid, and you’re not either.”

Dr. B peered over the medical chart, looking me squarely in the eye. I, of course, was not ready to give up. Couldn’t ever imagine giving up.

But to hear her remind me that she wasn’t either? Well, when you’re the mom of a kid who’s been labeled non-verbal, non-responsive, extremely-challenged, severe—all words that pretty much equate to hopelessness—the commitment of someone, anyone other than you…it resonates.

My son Jack has been seeing Dr. B for four years now. Yes, he is incredibly challenged by autism but first and foremost, he’s a great kid. Dr. B realizes that and has done everything within her power to make sure that he reaches his full potential, that his medical needs are met, and that he feels good, even though it’s hard for him to tell us.

She runs one of the 17 Autism Treatment Network (ATN) sites where people like my Jack, who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, go for highly coordinated medical care. It’s worth noting that ATNs are partially funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Your help is needed in order to ensure that the 17 ATNs dotted across the country have the ability to keep supporting and believing in beautiful people like Jack.

Five years ago, the Combating Autism Act (CAA) was passed by Congress. Millions of dollars were authorized to fund autism research, diagnosis and treatment. The HRSA ATN funding I mentioned earlier is one shining example of how CAA funds have been invested.

Unfortunately, on September 30th, the provisions of the Combating Autism Act will sunset. Because of this, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA) was filed earlier this year. CARA simply extends the work of the Combating Autism Act for three more years. As desperately as it is needed, advocates recognize the challenging times the country is facing, and are not asking for additional funding.

The good news is that CARA has bi-partisan support in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The bad news is that the clock is ticking. The September 30th deadline looms. The Congressional agenda is very full. We literally need an Act of Congress and we need it before the end of this month.

That said, slowly but surely, things are moving. Due in great part to a huge grassroots push last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor posted the bill for an expedited vote before the U.S. House of Representatives where it pased yesterday by voice vote.  Things are less certain in the Senate, where the CARA legislation passed unanimously out of the Senate HELP committee in early September, but has yet to be taken up on the floor.

It is not an exaggeration to say that every day until Septermber 30 will be critical. Congress is focused on many consuming issues and it is up to us to make sure that they don’t leave families and providers who walk in the word of autism a step behind.

In the spirit of Dr. B, I’m not giving up. I’m asking that you not give up either.

Join our final push for Combating Autism Reauthorization Act through United States Senate, by clicking here!

Countdown to CARA: On to the Senate!

September 7, 2011 Leave a comment

September 7 was an important day for the nation’s autism community as Congress began the effort to renew the landmark 2006 Combating Autism Act. By unanimous voice vote, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee moved S.1094, a bill which would renew the act for another three years, out of committee and on to the full Senate for a floor vote. While an important step, the HELP vote was just the first of several that Congress will need to complete by September 30 when the law expires.

To keep up the momentum, it is important that advocates urge those U.S. Senators who have yet to cosponsor S.1094, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA), to do so immediately. Nearly a third of the Senate has signed on to the bill, including five new cosponsors this week, but we need more. Visit our CARA Action Center to learn how.

Getting the bill voted out of the HELP committee required that a quorum of 12 Senators were in attendance. An intensive grassroots efforts by Autism Speaks through the Labor Day weekend helped ensure that 14 members attended and all voted to approve the bill for consideration by the full Senate. When that vote will occur is uncertain.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the CARA bill (HR.2005) similarly must first move out of the Energy & Commerce Committee before it can go to a full vote on the House floor. But before the committee acts, it must receive confirmation from Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), as the House Majority Leader, that he will allow the bill to go to a floor vote. Autism Speaks has launched a radio ad campaign in Rep. Cantor’s home district (Richmond-Harrisonburg) encouraging him to support CARA. Leader Cantor was a co-sponsor of the 2006 CAA, serves on the Congressional Autism Caucus and has attended Walk Now for Autism Speaks events in the past.

The original 2006 act authorized nearly $1 billion of federal spending through 2011 on biomedical and treatment research on autism. CARA would continue funding at current levels, authorizing $693 million over the next three years, without adding to the federal debt. The 2006 law was critical by establishing autism as a national health priority. Federal funding was increased by virtue of the 2006 law, leading to significant advances in the understanding of autism. The CAA required the federal government to develop a strategic plan to expand and better coordinate the nation’s support for persons with autism and their families. Important research findings have resulted, critical studies are underway and promising new interventions have been developed for children with autism, helping them to lead more independent lives, thereby reducing the need for publicly funded special education and social services.

Once a final bill is voted out of Congress, it goes to President Obama who has promised to sign a reauthorization bill this year. ALL of these steps must be completed by September 30 when the original act expires. To track the progress of the CARA legislation, visit the CARA home page at Autism Votes.

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