LONG ISLAND CITY — The Department of Justice said it will immediately fund a program to provide voluntary tracking devices for autistic children in the wake of Avonte Oquendo's disappearance.
Sen. Charles Schumer announced Sunday that he plans to introduce "Avonte's Law" — named for the autistic Queens teen who died after going missing in the fall — which would allocate $10 million for the devices nationwide.
At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder agreed to immediately begin paying for the devices with existing DOJ grant funds, according to Schumer.
The money for the nationwide program will come from a $400 million pool that already provides grants to local law enforcement agencies nationwide for Alzheimer's Disease tracking devices and will open those funds up to cover autism tracking devices, training and education programs, a Schumer spokesman said.
The grants are available to law enforcement agencies that apply for them. It is not clear how much they would cost.
The senator still plans to push for passage of "Avonte's Law" in order to get a separate and dedicated stream of funding for the program, his spokesman said.
The program would be run by local police departments which would distribute the tracking devices. Their use would be entirely at the discretion of parents, Schumer said.
The GPS devices would be monitored by a third party that would respond in the case of an emergency.
Statistics show that "bolting" is common among autistic children and teens, Schumer said, saying 49 percent of people on the autism spectrum attempt to run or wander off at some point.
"The sights and sounds of NYC and other busy places can be over-stimulating and distracting for children and teens with autism, often leading to wandering as a way to escape," Schumer said in a statement.
"Voluntary tracking devices will help our teachers and parents in the event that the child runs away and, God forbid, goes missing."
Avonte, who was autistic and could not communicate verbally, went missing after running out of an open door at his Long Island City high school on Oct. 4.
His disappearance sparked a massive citywide search effort that ended last week when remains discovered on a beach in College Point were positively identified as those of the missing 14-year-old.