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Sustainability funds sought to help suicidal Minnesotans better get local assistance

We know to dial 911 in case of an emergency.

Now you may want to remember 988 as well. That’s the number for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Sponsored by Rep. Jessica Hanson (DFL-Burnsville), HF1566 would appropriate $8 million in fiscal year 2024 and $4 million in fiscal year 2025 to the Department of Health to administer and oversee a lifeline center or centers that respond to Minnesotans dialing 988.

On a voice vote with no audible dissent, the House Human Services Policy Committee approved the bill Monday, referring it to the House Health Finance and Policy Committee.

More people in the U.S. die from suicide than car accidents and for every one person who dies from suicide, 316 consider it, Hanson said. In 2021, 777 Minnesotans committed suicide, meaning “there’s likely more than 245,000 Minnesotans that considered suicide.”

“Since switching to 988 on July 16, calls to Minnesota’s four call centers have increased 44%. Minnesota has also seen a 173% increase in web chats (since January 2022) and 250% increase in texts to 988. It is critical that calls to 988 from Minnesotans be answered in our own state so that connections to local resources and mobile crisis response can be made as needed,” wrote Michael Trangle, chair of the State Advisory Council on Mental Health.

“Short-term federal funding has helped our 988 lifeline centers in Minnesota build capacity to meet the increased need and answer a much higher number of calls in-state. … This bill will provide a sustainable way to support the growth of 988 services.”

On behalf of Mental Health Minnesota, two testifiers spoke in support of the bill.

“An easy to remember and well-publicized phone number like 988 that provides a source of help in a given moment of need can, and does, save lives,” said executive director Shannah Mulvihill.

Board Chair Patrick Rhone identifies himself as a “mental health survivor” and believes the bill would help friends, neighbors and all Minnesotans because everyone knows someone who has considered or committed suicide.

The bill would establish a telecommunications fee and prepaid wireless 988 fee for maintenance and improvements to the 988 lifeline and maintenance of a statewide suicide prevention crisis system. Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, each wireline, wireless or IP-enabled voice service could anticipate a fee between 12 cents and 25 cents per month.

Hanson shared further data to explain the fee.

“In 2021, a report from [National Association of Mental Illness] found that nearly three out of four adults surveyed — about 73% — said that they would be willing to pay a monthly fee on their phone bills to support this system,” she said.

Rep. Jeff Backer (R-Browns Valley) supports the bill but wants to consider funding the service out of taxes or fees already collected.

Because 911 is funded by a fee, Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina) disagrees. “Mental health is no different than your physical health. We need to fund it in the exact same way.”

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