Klobuchar, Murkowski Introduce Bill on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Recent studies suggest up to 20 percent of children are born with some degree of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Photo: Futurity

Presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced legislation today that would restore long lost federal dollars to help children affected by prenatal exposure to alcohol.

The Advancing FASD Research, Prevention and Services Act would amend the Public Health Service Act to include $42 million for research and services grants focused on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). The funds would all be marked for fiscal 2021, with an open authorization for more money from 2022 to 2025.

The FASD legislation was introduced by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

A similar pot of federal funds existed on FASD research from 1999 to 2003 – for $27 million per year – but has been omitted since from appropriations.

“Alaska faces some of the highest rates of FASD in the nation,” said Murkowski, who introduced similar legislation during the 2015 legislative session, in a statement issued today. “And while the effects—physical, mental, and behavioral—may be incurable, FASD is completely preventable.”

The bill envisions the following uses of federal funding to advance the field of FASD prevention, detection and services:

  • Establishment of a research agenda for FASD and, the awarding of grants to carry out that agenda. Research subjects will include promising avenues in FASD diagnosis, intervention and prevention, along with factors that “may mitigate the effects of fetal alcohol exposure.”
  • Grants to help “build state FASD systems,” meaning a plan for FASD that begins with surveillance and screening and moves through to clinical interventions.
  • Grants to support pilot projects for serving children affected by FASD, or for better training of judges and other key stakeholders in juvenile or child welfare systems about these disorders.
  • Grants for integrated systems of care for adults affected by FASD, including assistance with housing, job training or medication.

While the tie between parental opioid or meth use and systems like child welfare and juvenile justice is a hot topic, the effects of prenatal alcohol consumption are likely more severe and more frequent. A 2018 study of 6,000 first graders in four U.S. communities suggests that FASD prevalence ranges from 1 to 5 percent of children in America.

“The findings of this study confirm that FASD is a significant public health problem, and strategies to expand screening, diagnosis, prevention and treatment are needed to address it,” said George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in a statement issued last year after the study’s release.

Klobuchar has long been an advocate for child welfare and adoption issues, serving as co-chair of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption since 2015 and working on related legislation during her tenure. Her home state of Minnesota is the only state that requires foster parents to receive an hour of training on FASD as part of their licensing training.

“As the top prosecutor for Minnesota’s largest county, I saw firsthand the long-term effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol and other substances and the devastation it caused families and communities,” she said, in a statement.

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.