We received multiple inquiries from readers in October 2019 about the accuracy of news reports that claimed U.S. President Donald Trump had signed legislation that would provide $1.8 billion in funding for autism-related programs and research.
For example, on Oct. 2, ABC News published an article with the headline, "Trump Signs $1.8 Billion Autism Funding Bill" which reported that:
"President Donald Trump signed the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act (CARES) into law Monday, which allocates $1.8 billion in funding over the next five years to help people with autism spectrum disorder and their families ... The funding, which backs autism research and autism-related support programs, will also prioritize grants for rural and underserved areas."
Various Fox-owned regional news channels published an article with the headline, "President Trump Signs Bill Providing $1.8 Billion in Funding for Autism Programs," which reported that:
"President Trump has signed a bill that allocates $1.8 billion in funding to help people on the autism spectrum. The Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support (CARES) Act was signed into law Monday. The bill provides funding for autism programs and research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Health Resources and Services Administration.
"The bill, which reauthorizes the previous Autism CARES Act of 2014, expands government programs to include older people with autism 'who were -- and are-- often misdiagnosed, underdiagnosed and overlooked,' according to Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), one of the bill's co-sponsors in the House of Representatives."
Those reports were accurate. On Sept. 30, Trump did indeed sign into law H.R. 1058, the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act of 2019, as the Congressional Record shows. The "Autism CARES Act" became law on that date.
The legislation, which was authored by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., commits to spending $369.7 million every fiscal year between 2020 and 2024 — a total of $1.85 billion over five years. As such, the news articles were also highly accurate in reporting that the bill Trump signed allocates $1.8 billion. In fact, the total is slightly higher.
That funding commitment represents a 42 percent increase on the $1.3 billion that Congress allocated for 2015-2019, in the 2014 Autism CARES Act.
The bill had sponsors from both parties and received wide bipartisan support in both houses. It was passed without need for a roll-call vote in the House on July 24 and in the Senate on Sept. 19.
The bill essentially reauthorized the Autism CARES Act of 2014, which had been sponsored by Smith in the House, and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., in the Senate. It provided funding for the disbursement of grants to researchers, as well as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) programs and centers across the country.
Former President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on Aug. 8, 2014.
The 2019 bill added new provisions whereby the Director of the National Institutes of Health could prioritize funding for research, programs and services in "rural or underserved areas," and take into account the extent to which an applicant served "youth and adults from diverse racial, ethnic, geographic, or linguistic backgrounds."
In the past, President Trump has repeatedly promoted the long-debunked theory that vaccinations cause autism, but his position may have shifted somewhat. Earlier in 2019, he urged parents to vaccinate their children against measles, in the midst of an outbreak of the disease.