Home Radio codes phone bill costs to finance the debates of the line emergency telephone on suicide

phone bill costs to finance the debates of the line emergency telephone on suicide


WASHINGTON-Skirmishes erupt in state houses across the United States on how to pay for a new suicide hotline.

The new 988 number is set to launch in July following the code approval in 2020. The three-digit Federal Communications Commission will replace the National Lifeline Suicide Prevention Number 1-800-273-TALK, which calls the routes to a network of local advice centers.

The state officials are wondering whether to impose new fees on consumer phone bills to pay for the 988 and expand mental health crisis services. Government data shows the coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on the mental health of Americans. In 2020, a record 2.39 million calls were made to the National Suicide Hotline.

The 988 number will work in July regardless of what happens with the charges offered by the state. Mental health advocates anticipate the easy-to-remember 988 will lead to a further rise in calls, and they want to add new monthly charges to the phone bills to pay for a better crisis response system.

“If there is not enough staff, people will continue to call the service. They’ll have longer queues, ”said Monica Kurz, vice president of the Kansas Suicide Prevention Headquarters, one of three groups responding to calls for rescue in the state. “I think people will hang up, and I think it will cost lives.”


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Telecom companies and conservatives support the 988, but say that all costs should be kept low and limited to cover the cost of call processing.

“The bill imposes a new tax to our wireless customers,” said Margaret Morgan, lobbyist for T-Mobile US. Inc.,

at a public hearing in Montana last year about a proposal for telephone charges of 10 cents, estimated at $ 1.5 million per year for the emergency services in case of crisis in the State.

Mrs Morgan said that T-Mobile supported the 988, but that the legislation lacked details on the program and looked like a “blank check”. The bill was not passed.

The debate echoes the phone charges to fund the 911 emergency number.

In 2019, five states embezzled about $ 200 million in 911 fees or surcharges for “public safety programs unrelated to 911,” such as purchasing police body cameras or subsidizing wireless radio towers, according to the report. an FCC report. Some states have challenged the finding, but in 2020 Congress directed the FCC to impose new limits on how 911 fees are spent.

The Federal Communications Commission has ordered telephone companies to route all 988 calls to the suicide lifeline by July 16, 2022.


Andrew Harnik / Associated press

Costs of telephone or surcharges to fund 988 call centers were adopted by at least four states: Virginia, Colorado, Nevada and Washington. A 40-cent tax passed in Washington last year is expected to bring in about $ 46 million a year.

The launch of the 988 provided an “opportunity to redesign our crisis system to make it more responsive,” said Washington State Representative Tina Orwall, Democrat.

Ms. Orwall said she expected that the costs can help double the number of 988 call centers, allowing them to offer more advice and monitoring of patients. In some cases, mental health teams might be able to step in instead of police or paramedics, she said, if there is no medical or public safety emergency. .

At least seven other states have debated the costs. In Idaho, a committee of the Senate last year floated fresh monthly phone bill of $ 1, which would have generated $ 20 million per year to cover the costs of responding to calls, as well as crisis centers for equipment to respond to emergencies of Mental Health.

Verizon Communications Inc.

objected, noting that Idaho has a budget surplus that it could use to pay for an expansion of mental health services, said Roy Eiguren, an Idaho lobbyist representing the company.

Verizon Communications opposed to monthly phone costs $ 1 in Idaho that would have generated money to cover the costs of response to calls crisis, among others.



The conservative Idaho Freedom Foundation described the proposed charge of “de facto tax increase for Idahoans.” Lawmakers suspended charges and are now looking to tap into federal or state dollars to support 988, said the representative of the State Laurie Lickley, a Republican.

In California, state legislators debated last year, but have not adopted cost up to 80 cents per phone line, which would have generated about $ 192 million per year.

Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Kansas are other states that have considered the charges last year but have not adopted them. New York lawmakers have commissioned a report on new potential sources of revenue to cover services related to 988.

The national lifeline for suicide prevention began in 2005. Calls are typically routed by area code to local call centers run by nonprofit organizations, where they are answered by a combination of permanent staff and trained volunteers. The centers typically pay the bills with public funds and private donations.

The FCC ordered phone companies to direct all 988 calls to the suicide lifeline on July 16, 2022. Congress supported the move by allowing states to charge fees for phone bills “in support of 9-8-8 services. The Biden administration has released $ 282 million to help states launch 988.

Supporters recognize that if telephone charges are high enough, the income could exceed operating costs of call centers. But they say that better crisis response could ultimately save money by reducing the burden of emergency and police services.

“With a relatively small amount per person, there might be a big win,” said Bob Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for nonprofit suicide prevention.

In Kansas, the mental health advocates support a proposed law imposing a fee of 50 cents 988 to collect 17.4 million dollars per year. The money could be used for call centers, “mobile crisis response” and a new coordinator for suicide prevention at the state level.

“The reality is that we didn’t have the funding through our general state fund” to provide adequate crisis services, “said Ms. Kurz, of the Kansas nonprofit. “Telephone charge is a good solution because they can get funding from a large majority of the population for services conveniently accessible to all. “

Lobbyists telecommunications suggested that the proposals create the possibility that the mission away from the goal to quickly respond to crisis calls.

Federal Law 988 restricts the use of charges to expenses such as taking calls and dispatching, a Verizon lobbyist told Kansas lawmakers in a March 2021 email viewed by the Wall Street Journal.

Ms Kurz disputed this interpretation, but the Kansas bill was not passed last year. The next session of the legislature should begin Monday.

Write to Ryan Tracy [email protected]

Corrections and amplifications
The current number of national life line for suicide prevention is 1-800-273-TALK. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that it was 1-800-273-LIFE. (Corrected January 5.)

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