The Delaware House passed a bill that would enhance the funding source for the state’s 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline to improve its continuum of care and enable more residents to receive necessary and needed behavioral health care. The vote was 28-11-1-1. Eleven Republicans opposed this. If they were capable of shame, they would feel it now.
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 cellphone 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 160S2 would implement a 60-cent monthly surcharge on each residential or business phone line, wireless phone line, establish a fund for the surcharge, and create a board composed of 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, which provides support for Delawareans experiencing behavioral health crises. The behavioral health crisis intervention services surcharge is modeled after Delaware’s existing E-911 surcharge on wireless and prepaid wireless. 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 plan for establishing, operating, and maintaining a behavioral health crisis communication center. The plan would be submitted to the Governor and General Assembly within 12 months of the bill’s effective date.
Additionally, the board would develop and recommend a comprehensive statewide crisis intervention services plan to be updated 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 the Ability Network of Delaware, Delaware Lifeline Center(s), 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 160S2 would allow funds collected to be used to improve the operation of the 988 system, including staffing, establishing, operating, or contracting for crisis teams for adults and children, providing specialized training, raising public awareness, and data collection and analysis.
HB 160S2 now heads to the Senate for consideration.
|HOUSE BILL 160S2 – FUNDING THE SUICIDE HOTLINE||Currrent Status – House Passed 28-11-1-1. Sent to the Senate.|
|House Sponsors – Longhurst, Baumbach, Johnson, Minor-Brown // Briggs King||Senate Sponsors – Poore, Gay, Hansen, Hoffner, Huxtable // Buckson, Wilson|
|House Yes Votes – Baumbach Bolden Bush Carson Chukwuocha Cooke Dorsey-Walker Griffith Harris Heffernan Johnson Lambert Longhurst Lynn Matthews Minor-Brown Moore Morrison Neal Osienski Parker-Selby Phillips Romer Schwartzkopf Williams Wilson-Anton // Hensley Smith||Senate Yes Votes –|
|House No Votes – Collins Dukes Gray Hilovsky Morris Postles Ramone Short Shupe Spiegelman Vanderwende||Senate No Votes –|
|House Absents or Not Voting – (Not Voting) Briggs King (Absent) Yearick||Senate Absent or Not Voting –|
“We know that there are Delawareans in crisis that have difficulty accessing behavioral health professionals. Additionally, our behavioral health professionals need proper resources and tools to save lives,” said Rep. Longhurst. “People in crisis need to know when they call 988 that they are being connected to knowledgeable, caring professionals who are there to assist through incredibly difficult situations.
“Establishing a small monthly surcharge, similar to the 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 160S2 builds on our ongoing efforts to address the mental health crisis and provide a continuum of care for residents. Sustained funding will support the streamlining of our behavioral health crisis lines and services, ensuring that our residents have someone to call, someone to respond and somewhere to go.”
“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 160S2.
“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. I want to thank the House for passing legislation today that builds on our 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. I look forward to passing this bill in the Senate and sending this critical measure to Governor John Carney for his signature.”