Congress has renewed and approved a bigger budget for a joint private-public program that has helped rescue more than 100,000 missing children since it was created in 1984.
The lawmakers' approval was followed Wednesday afternoon by a Justice Department ceremony to honor local police departments and citizens who have worked to stop predators and bring missing children home as quickly as possible. Four former victims of child abduction, including Elizabeth Smart, were there to release a government guide they helped write offering advice for kidnap victims.
Elizabeth, a Brigham Young University student who was kidnapped in 2002 at age 14, did not speak during the 70-minute ceremony. Her father, Ed Smart, gave a 10-minute speech during which he described homeland security not only as protecting the nation against terrorists, but also against child predators
''Life took on a new meaning when this happened to us,'' Ed Smart said, his voice breaking several times during the speech.
''I remember hearing comments like, 'We've got this under control. We don't need any more help,' '' Ed Smart said. ''As a parent I thought, 'How can I hear that you aren't bringing everything to bear on finding my daughter?' ''
The Senate gave voice approval late Tuesday to a measure authorizing up to $40 million a year for the next five years in government support for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The bill passed the House last December and now goes to the president for his signature.
The Justice Department estimates that 2,200 children are reported missing every day and there are an estimated 114,600 attempted stranger abductions each year, with 3,000 to 5,000 of these attempts succeeding, said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who sponsored the bill in the Senate with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. ''These families need the assistance of the American people and a helping hand from Congress.''
The national center, founded by John Walsh, host of the TV show ''America's Most Wanted,'' has worked on some 127,700 cases since 1984, helping recover more than 110,200 children, Leahy said. The center works in partnership with the Justice Department, the FBI and other federal agencies to prevent child abuse and aid its victims. Actual money for the center still has to be determined in annual spending bills.
The funding ''will increase resources for law enforcement to capture, prosecute and incarcerate the worst of criminals that work to harm our children,'' said Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Texas, House co-sponsor with Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill.
Associated Press writer Lara Jakes Jordan contributed to this report.
The bill is H.R. 2517.
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