Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Survey Response: Doug Owens, Candidate for U.S. Congressional District #4

Candidates for the November 2016 elections were given the opportunity to answer a few questions relating to autism.  The following are responses are from Doug Owens:

Healthcare:  44 states (including Utah) have enacted legislation requiring health insurance to cover autism.  State law cannot affect self-funded plans, which fall under federal ERISA rules.  Would you support adding autism coverage to federally-regulated plans?

Doug Owens:  I understand how expensive it can be to care for a child with autism, and I would support adding autism coverage to federally-regulated plans. I also know that those expenses often don't end when the child becomes an adult. It's estimated that care for an adult with autism will cost more than $3 million over a lifetime, and few parents have much, if any, excess cash to pay into a savings plan to prepare for those expenses. This is why I proudly supported the ABLE Act, and would have co-sponsored it in Congress. The ABLE Act helps individuals save money to cover expenses like housing, transportation, education, and other types of necessary assistance.  These tax-exempt saving accounts will help reduce the financial stress and difficulties individuals with autism and their families face when planning for their future. In addition, these accounts will not impact eligibility for disability benefits. I also support broadening 529 college education savings plans to include children with special needs. Individuals with autism and their families need the financial flexibility and freedom to live a life that suits them best.

Education:  Over the past 4 decades, the ADA and IDEA have dramatically improved access to education for students with disabilities, including those with autism.  Many students with autism need the support of an IEP or 504 plan in order to access an education.  Although IDEA requires states to provide services and provides some federal funding, that funding has never reached the originally intended 40%.  In 2016, IDEA is funded at around 16%.  Would you support efforts to increase federal funding for IDEA?

Doug Owens:  Ensuring that every child receives a quality education is one of my highest priorities. I understand the unique needs and demands involved with educating autistic children, and I am committed to supporting measures that provide them with the best education possible.  All educators, not only special education teachers, are vastly under-valued and under-paid, and we must develop ways to bring more money into the Utah education system that will provide our educators with the resources and flexibility to address the most pressing needs of their students. This is especially true for special education needs. As a Member of Congress, I will work to ensure that any revisions to the No Child Left Behind Act would increase funding and reduce burdensome requirements for improving special education. I will fight to maintain Utah's share of federal resources for Title 1 schools and special education programs.

Employment:  In the years following high school, 2/3rds of people with autism are neither employed nor continuing education.  “H.R. 5587: Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act” passed the House in September.  It supports career and technical education (CTE) programs and helps students with autism gain skills necessary for employment.  Do you support such legislation?

Doug Owens:  I have seen firsthand how those with autism benefit greatly from being employed. That is why I would have voted for and strongly support the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.

Wandering:  Almost half of children with autism wander from a caregiver.  “S. 2614: Kevin and Avonte’s Law of 2016” passed the Senate in July.  It provides federal support for equipment and training for first responders and schools to combat wandering.  Do you support such legislation?

Doug Owens:  When elected to Congress, I will strongly support Avonte's Law and would also be proud to introduce the House version of this bill. I understand that wandering is one of the greatest fears for families of autistic individuals. The option of tracking devices would not only help reduce the stress families face when their child wanders, but would also reduce the cost and length of potential searches. The $10 million in grants provided in this bill would help make tracking devices an accessible option for working families. Utah's incidence of autism, which is one in 54 children, is higher than the national average, and I would fight hard for Utah to receive a greater share of these grants.

Personal experience:  The autism rate in Utah is 1 in 54.  Your family and social circle doesn’t have to be very large before it includes someone with autism.  If you want to share any personal or professional experience with autism, please do so.

Doug Owens: My wife Cynthia and I are the parents of four wonderful children, one of whom has high-functioning autism. Autism is not an "issue" for us. We have lived and continue to live the concerns of parents with children on the spectrum. When elected, you can count on me to work tirelessly to ensure that all individuals on the spectrum and their families have the resources they need to address the condition and flourish in our society.