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States Debate Funding For New Suicide Hotline 988

State officials across the U.S. are debating over how to pay for a new suicide hotline. The new 988 number is set to launch in July. The three-digit code will replace the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 1-800-273-TALK number, which routes calls to a network of local counseling centers, the Wall Street Journal reports. State officials are weighing whether to impose new fees on consumers’ phone bills to pay for 988 and expand mental-health crisis services. The pandemic has exacted a toll on mental health. In 2020, a record 2.39 million calls were placed to the national suicide hotline. The 988 number will work in July no matter what happens with proposed state fees. Mental-health advocates anticipate the easy-to-remember 988 will lead to a further rise in calls. They want to add new monthly fees on telephone bills to pay for a better crisis-response system. “If there’s not sufficient staff, people will continue to call the service. They’ll have longer wait lines,” said Monica Kurz of the Kansas Suicide Prevention HQ. “I think that people will hang up, and I think that that will cost lives.” Telecom companies and conservatives support 988 but say any fees should be kept low and be limited to covering the cost of handling calls. “The bill imposes a new tax on our wireless consumers,” said Margaret Morgan of T-Mobile US , at a public hearing in Montana last year about a proposed 10-cent phone-bill fee estimated to raise $1.5 million annually for crisis-response services. Morgan said T-Mobile supported the 988 number but the legislation lacked program details and looked like a “blank check.” The bill didn’t pass. The debate echoes one over phone-bill fees to fund the 911 emergency number.


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