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988 Suicide-Crisis Hotline Gets More Calls, Needs Additional Funding

Almost everyone agrees that putting money behind the national suicide and crisis hotline is a good thing. Not everyone thinks a new phone tax is the best way to pay for it, reports Stateline. Since the crisis line’s easy-to-remember 988 number launched last July, its use has increased significantly. The lifeline had 404,194 calls, chats and texts in February alone, an increase of 161,678 over February 2022. Calls answered increased by 48%, chats answered by 247% and texts by 1,599%. An infusion of federal money to the national nonprofit that administers 988 and to local call centers that historically have received little or no federal aid has largely covered the expense of launching the new number and the recent increase in volume. In the future, state and local governments still will be responsible for funding the local centers where calls are first routed, leaving many budget writers grappling with how to cover the costs as demand increases.


When Congress in 2020 required the Federal Communications Commission to designate 988 as a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, it allowed states to enact new telecommunications fees to fund 988 operations. Yet only five states have done so: California, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and Washington. Six other states have pending legislation that would impose a fee: Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont, says the National Alliance on Mental Illness. About 20 other states this year have either passed or are considering other 988-related legislation, ranging from providing money for the 988 program or for mobile crisis services to creating a task force or launching a study of potential funding sources. Officials knew that the 988 number would significantly increase contact volumes, meaning states would need to come up with more funding for call centers; that’s why Congress allowed states to impose a telecom fee. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which oversees the crisis line, wants the transition to 988 to spur growth of a robust system that links callers to community-based providers who can deliver a full range of crisis care services, such as mobile crisis teams or stabilization centers.

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