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Fischer, colleagues push to add National Suicide Hotline to next COVID-19 relief package

Staff Writer
Syracuse Journal-Democrat

U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) today joined a bipartisan, bicameral push in Congress to include S. 2661, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, in the next COVID-19 relief package. Senator Fischer co-sponsored this bipartisan legislation, which would designate 9-8-8 as the three-digit number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.

“We write to request the inclusion of S. 2661/ H.R. 4194, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, in the next COVID-19 relief package. The creation of this three-digit dialing code is essential in order to address the growing suicide crisis across the United States,” wrote Senator Fischer and her colleagues. “As our country is facing an unprecedented challenge in responding to COVID-19, this three-digit hotline would play a critical role in saving the lives of many vulnerable Americans who are facing mental health emergencies during this period of isolation and uncertainty. Suicide does not discriminate between rural and urban areas or by income, and it causes heartbreak and loss in communities in every single one of our states. We must ensure that we are doing everything we can to prevent these devastating outcomes from occurring, especially in these trying times as grief and uncertainty encompass our nation.”

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, S. 2661 designates 9-8-8 as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which would include the Veterans Crisis Line for veteran-specific mental health support. The current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis line is 10-digits long, which is a barrier to Americans in crisis seeking support.

Background:

  • In August 2019, the FCC released their report, which found that a national three-digit line would improve suicide prevention and recommended a simple number that Americans could dial in times of crisis: 9-8-8.
  • In October 2019, Senators Gardner, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced S. 2661, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which designates 9-8-8 for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline and ensures states have the flexibility to strengthen local crisis call centers. The bill ensures states are able to collect fees for the line, similar to the way they do for the 911 emergency line, and requires reports to Congress to help ensure effectiveness and operability of the line.
  • Nearly 50 mental health organizations and veterans support organizations announced their support and urged Congress to pass the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act.
  • At a press conference in November, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced the FCC would consider establishing 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention hotline at their meeting on December 12, 2019. 
  • The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation unanimously passed this bipartisan bill to designate 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline in December 2019.
  • In December 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to designate 9-8-8 as the three-digit number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.

The full text of the letter is available here