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HB 160 – Funding the Suicide Hotline

Continuing Delaware’s efforts to expand and provide residents with the necessary behavioral healthcare they need, lawmakers unveiled a bill Tuesday that would establish a funding source for the state’s 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline to improve its continuum of care.

In 2020, Congress passed the 988 National Suicide Designation Act, requiring a new, universal three-digit calling code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, similar to how 911 is utilized for public safety emergencies. However, state and local governments were responsible for implementing the 988 system, which launched July 2022, though Congress allowed states to assess a fee on cell phone bills to recover the costs related to 988 and associated crisis services.

Sponsored by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst and Sen. Nicole Poore, House Bill 160 would implement a 60-cent monthly surcharge on each wireless access line, establish a fund for the surcharge, and create a board composed state agencies and stakeholders to report on the state’s crisis intervention services. It also would institute a one-time, 60-cent fee on prepaid services.

Under the bill, the funds collected through the surcharge would be specifically earmarked for operating the 988 system, providing crisis intervention services and staffing associated services. Unspent monies would revert to the fund each year and could not be used for general state expenses.

Currently, Delaware’s crisis lines handle about 25,000 contacts, though state officials expect those numbers to increase due to a greater need for behavioral health services, with growth of more than 60% possible.

The Behavioral Health Crisis Intervention Services Board would be charged with developing and recommending a comprehensive statewide crisis intervention services plan and updating it annually. The board would make recommendations to the governor and General Assembly about how to best allocate the surcharge funds to meet identified needs.

The board would include representatives from several state agencies and advocacy groups, including Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services, Behavioral Health Consortium, Delaware Suicide Prevention Coalition, National Alliance on Mental Illness in Delaware, and the Mental Health Association in Delaware.

HB 160 would allow funds collected to be used for the establishment and operation of the 988 system and center, including staffing, providing crisis intervention services, providing specialized training, raising public awareness, and data collection and analysis.

HB 160 has been assigned to the House Health & Human Development Committee.

HOUSE BILL 160 – FUNDING THE SUICIDE HOTLINECurrrent Status – House Health & Human Development 5/16/23
House SponsorsLonghurst, Baumbach, Johnson, Minor-Brown // Briggs KingSenate SponsorsPoore, Gay, Hansen, Hoffner, Huxtable // Buckson, Wilson
House Yes VotesSenate Yes Votes
House No VotesSenate No Votes
House Absents or Not VotingSenate Absent or Not Voting

“People in crisis need to know when they call 988 that they are being connected to knowledgeable, caring professionals who will help steer them through incredibly difficult situations. However, 988 calls in Delaware are currently funneled to the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, which is chronically understaffed,” said Rep. Longhurst. “We need to provide our behavioral health professionals with the tools and resources they need to save lives.

“Establishing a small monthly surcharge, similar to way we fund 911 emergency services, will strengthen our mental health services in Delaware and ensure that a person reaching out for help receives quality care. HB 160 builds on our ongoing efforts to address the mental health crisis and provide a continuum of care for residents.”

“Delaware can’t sit by and hope that the behavioral health crisis that has been affecting our nation for decades will simply go away on its own,” said Sen. Poore, the Senate prime sponsor of HB 160. “That’s why I have joined with Rep. Longhurst and our colleagues in the Delaware General Assembly to make real investments in a system of care capable of helping people who need it most. This legislation builds on that work by giving our new behavioral health crisis and suicide prevention help line the staff and resources it needs to deescalate emergencies, quickly provide families with immediate access to support and services, and most importantly, save lives.”

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