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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate sends bill to fund 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and related services to Governor John Carney

June 28, 2023

DOVER – The Senate on Wednesday sent legislation to Governor John Carney that would create a dedicated funding source for the state’s new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and help more Delawareans access the behavioral health care in their time of need.

“When a loved one is experiencing a behavioral health crisis, families need immediate access to someone who can help them reach the quality care and services they desperately need and deserve,” said Sen. Nicole Poore, a former rape crisis volunteer and the current vice-chair of the Senate Health & Social Services Committee.

“With this legislation, we are making sure our new behavioral health crisis and suicide prevention help line has the staff and resources it needs to deescalate emergencies, quickly get families in contact with support and services, and most importantly, save lives,” she said. “I want to thank my colleagues in the Delaware General Assembly, particularly House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, for working tirelessly to address the behavioral health crisis, including getting this critical legislation to Governor Carney for his signature.” 

Launched in mid-2022, the new three-digit call and text code to assist Delawareans who are experiencing a behavioral health crisis was prompted by federal legislation signed into law by former President Donald Trump. The law also authorized states to collect fees on phone bills to ensure local crisis centers would be able to support increased call volume.

Sponsored by Rep. Longhurst and Sen. Poore in May, House Bill 160 (S) would carry out that mandate by implementing a 60-cent monthly surcharge on cell phone and landlines and a 60-cent fee on prepaid services, mirroring the fees currently collected to support 911 emergency services.

Under HB 160 (S), funds collected from the surcharge would be deposited in a Behavioral Health Crisis Intervention Services Fund used to support the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and provide a plan for an integrated continuum of services to assist Delawareans experiencing a behavioral health crisis.

“Our dedicated behavioral health professionals need proper resources and tools to combat the mental health crisis and save lives,” Rep. Longhurst said.

“The 988 hotline is a significant, lifesaving resource for Delawareans. People in crisis need to know when they call the hotline that they are being connected to knowledgeable, caring professionals who are there to assist through incredibly difficult situations,” she said. “This 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. 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. I’m grateful to the Senate for passing this important bill and look forward to the Governor signing it into law.”

During the first quarter of 2023, Delaware’s 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline answered close to 900 calls, about a third of which were directed to the Veterans Crisis Line. State officials expect those numbers to significantly increase as the public becomes more aware of the 988 system and demand for services rises.

In addition to helping to fund that expansion, HB 160 (S) would create a 20-member board made up of state health officials, behavioral health experts, medical professionals, law enforcement and others. The board would be tasked with developing a comprehensive statewide crisis intervention services plan and recommending to the Governor and the General Assembly how best to allocate funds from the surcharge.