At a time when unity is needed more than ever, two Congressmen have reached across the aisle to advocate for the autism community during the Covid-19 pandemic. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) have a drafted a three page letter requesting that critical assistance programs and funding for those with autism be incorporated into phase IV of the federal response to the Coronavirus. The letter, sent on April 15th, is addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Leader Kevin McCarthy, Leader Mitch McConnell and Leader Chuck Schumer.
“The autism community is facing a unique set of challenges with stay-at-home orders, school closures, travel bans and other abrupt changes that can be very disruptive for all Americans, but even far more so for many on the autism spectrum,” Congressman Smith, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Autism Caucus on Capitol Hill, was quoted as saying by Insider NJ.com. “Congress must not overlook individuals on the spectrum as we prioritize unmet needs in the upcoming round of federal assistance in the battle against the coronavirus. These are very troublesome times for individuals with autism, who often feel secure only in a stable, routine environment, and whose lives have been turned upside down.”
Congressman Doyle emphasized the challenges the Coronavirus pandemic has created for families living with autism, many of whom rely on special therapies and services that are now more inaccessible.
“We’re urging the House and Senate leadership to expand telehealth services and increase funding for IDEA and Home and Community-Based Services for them,” Doyle said.
Among other requests, the letter advocates for increasing funding for Home and Community-Based Services, IDEA services, and telehealth care, and requests that any federal legislation to support access to distance learning and other supports also address the unique needs of students with disabilities, including requirements under IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Smith and Doyle collaborated on the Autism CARES Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump in September 2019. The bill reauthorizes federal programs and activities over five years that assist children, adults, and families with autism.