06.24.20

FCC Commissioners Unanimously Agree: House Should Swiftly Pass Gardner’s 9-8-8 Suicide Hotline Bill to Save Lives

At Senate hearing, FCC Commissioners urge passage of Gardner’s legislation to create three-digit national suicide hotline

Washington, D.C. – Today at a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, every single commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) endorsed S. 2661, U.S. Senator Cory Gardner’s (R-CO) bipartisan legislation with U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and U.S. Representatives Chris Stewart (R-UT) and Seth Moulton (D-MA) to establish 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline and agreed the U.S. House of Representatives should swiftly pass it. The Senate passed S. 2661 unanimously last month, but it still awaits consideration in the House.

NOTE: Click here to download Gardner’s discussion with FCC Commissioners at today’s hearing.

“Colorado has one of the highest suicide rates in the country – we lose a Coloradan approximately once every seven hours to suicide. With COVID-19 upending life as we know it, suicide prevention is more important than ever. For the months of March and April 2020, calls to our state mental health crisis line spiked 48 percent compared to last year,” said Senator Gardner. “In a crisis there should be no confusion about where to call, which is why 9-8-8 is so important and will save lives.”

During the hearing titled, “Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission,” Gardner asked every FCC commissioner, “Do you agree with all 100 Senators that this is critical legislation and that it complements the work you are doing at the Commission and should be swiftly passed by the House of Representatives to help save lives?”

Every single commissioner said yes. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced earlier this week that the FCC will vote on moving forward with the 9-8-8 suicide hotline at the FCC’s July 16 meeting.

Gardner’s 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. The bill includes a report to improve support services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) youth and other high-risk populations. Until the FCC finalizes the technical implementation of 9-8-8 as the nationwide number, anyone seeking help should still call 1-800-273-8255.

Today’s full hearing can be viewed here.

Background: 

  • On May 13, the Senate unanimously passed Gardner’s National Suicide Hotline Designation Act.
  • In April 2020, Gardner led a bipartisan, bicameral call to include the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act in the next COVID-19 relief package.
  • Gardner sent a bipartisan letter to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Schumer requesting $80 million to support critical suicide prevention activities amid the public health crisis that is upending the social and financial stability of countless Americans.
  • In February 2020, Gardner held a behavioral health roundtable at the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus (CCIC) to discuss Colorado’s mental health needs and his work across the aisle to increase mental health support in Colorado.
  • Gardner invited mental health advocate and 2018 Air Force Spouse of the Year Kristen Christy from Colorado Springs to be his guest at the President’s annual State of the Union Address and highlighted the need for more mental health support in Colorado.
  • In December 2019, the 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 Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation unanimously passed Senator Gardner’s bipartisan bill to designate 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline in December 2019.
  • At a press conference in November with Senator Gardner, 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. 
  • Nearly 50 mental health organizations and veterans support organizations announced their support and urged Congress to pass the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act.
  • In November 2019, Gardner met with Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners in Denver to discuss his bipartisan push to establish the three-digit hotline, which the organization said “will definitely be easier to remember and will result in significant utilization for a whole continuum of questions and needs related to behavioral health.”
  • 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.
  • During his annual Colorado Farm Tour, Gardner held a roundtable in Julesburg regarding rural healthcare and mental health needs in rural areas in August 2019.
  • 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 July 2019, Gardner participated in the Voices for Awareness event at Colorado Mesa University about the need to destigmatize mental health support and suicide prevention services.
  • In April 2019, Gardner held a roundtable in Mesa County focused on teen suicide rates in Colorado and what the federal government can do to support students.
  • In 2018, Gardner voted for the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, which directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to evaluate using a three-digit dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.