July 28, 2023

Cárdenas Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Improve Timeliness and Accessibility of Mental Health Crisis Response Through 988

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Tony Cárdenas (CA-29) introduced his Local 988 Response Act of 2023, this bipartisan legislation seeks to improve access to and accuracy of mental health crisis response through the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. By requiring calls and messages to the lifeline to be routed by the call center geographically nearest to the caller, rather than by area code, we can ensure a quicker response by mental health professionals.

“We’ve made great strides in improving our response to mental health crises through the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline,” said Congressman Cárdenas. “When you dial 988, you are connected to a trained professional who can provide resources and support. However, the current system routes you to a call center based on your area code. If I called 988 from Washington, D.C., I would be speaking to someone based in L.A. This is a huge problem if a call center needs to send a mental health response team to help to a caller that might be thousands of miles away in another city. My bill would make accessing lifesaving care through the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline easier for callers nationwide.”

As 988 becomes established as the nationwide number to call for mental health and substance use crises, it will require continued investment and improvement. Currently, calls to 988 are routed by area code, and it is slowing access to resources on the ground. This creates a problem if a caller needs to be connected with a greater continuum of care, such as a crisis response team or crisis center. The Geo-Routing Act would eliminate an unnecessary handoff by connecting callers with the nearest call center, while still protecting user privacy, so they can receive the care they need as quickly and safely as possible. 

This bill improves the access and accuracy of 988 response by:

  • Requiring the FCC to route calls based on the proximity of the caller to the call center, not the area code. The bill specifies that a caller’s specific location should not be revealed or discernible. 
  • Requiring carriers to allow calls and texts to 988 even if the plan is inactive or the carrier is experiencing service interruptions or failures.
  • Extends Kari’s Law to 988, requiring multi-line systems like hotel and office phones to support the direct dialing of 988; rather than requiring a caller to dial 9 or another number before dialing 988.

Congressman Cárdenas is a longtime champion of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Line and is working to improve the state of mental health in America. He recently introduced his 988 Implementation Act, and continues to work on building out 988 and the broader mental health crisis care continuum. He is joined by Congressmembers Doris Matsui (CA-07), Grace Napolitano (CA-31), Ann Kuster (NH-02), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), and Seth Moulton (MA-06) who have joined as original cosponsors to the Local 988 Response Act of 2023.

Full bill text can be found here.