Padilla, Tillis, Cárdenas, HHS Secretary Becerra Join FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel to Announce Proposal for Improved Routing of Wireless Calls to the 9-8-8 Lifeline

WATCH: Padilla applauds crucial step to help connect callers in distress to nearby crisis centers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), co-founders of the bipartisan Senate Mental Health Caucus, Representative Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.-29), co-chair of the bipartisan House 988 & Crisis Services Task Force, and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra joined Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to announce a critical step to improve the 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

The proposal contains provisions from the lawmakers’ Local 9-8-8 Response Act of 2023, which would expedite the process of connecting 9-8-8 Lifeline callers with their nearest call center so they can receive appropriate care and resources from mental health professionals and local public safety officials as quickly as possible, while protecting user privacy.

The bipartisan 9-8-8 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline has been critical for supporting Americans in crisis, but currently, calls to the hotline are routed by area code rather than by the caller’s location. As awareness of the hotline increases, it is crucial to ensure that operators can quickly connect callers to a range of mental health services and a full continuum of care.

“The FCC took a vital step today toward making it easier for Americans in crisis to efficiently access lifesaving support,” said Senator Padilla. “Senator Tillis and I made a promise that our bipartisan Senate Mental Health Caucus would work to address our nation’s mental health epidemic and make sure those in crisis know they are not suffering alone. We’re already seeing the impacts we can make by shining a spotlight on these issues and working together. Today’s proposal follows our legislative efforts to quickly and safely connect callers on the 9-8-8 hotline to the local mental health support services they need.”

“The 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline has been an important resource in connecting those in crisis with necessary care, and I’m excited about this next step to further improve the Lifeline,” said Senator Tillis. “Ensuring callers are routed to crisis centers based on their geographic location as opposed to their device’s area code will allow for a quicker and more localized response for individuals in crisis and, as co-chair of the Senate Mental Health Caucus, I’m proud that this new capability will soon become a reality.”

“As a strong advocate of the 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, I want to commend the FCC for getting ahead of us in Congress and pushing for much needed changes,” said Representative Cárdenas. “The American people deserve the peace of mind and confidence that when they call 988, there will be someone answering that call, someone to come quickly if they need it, and somewhere to go to get compassionate care. Today, I believe we have delivered hope to many.”

“Thanks to our combined efforts, now anyone, anywhere in this country can call or text an easy-to-remember, three-digit number for the Suicide and Mental Health Crisis Lifeline at any time they need help,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel. “When people reach out to 988 for help, they should have confidence that the support they receive is local.  As we develop technical solutions, we want experts in mental health to work with us every step of the way.  I’m grateful for the leadership of Senators Padilla and Tillis, Congressman Cardenas, and Secretary Becerra for working with the FCC to meet the needs of those of us suffering in silence.  Help is here.”

“988 is working because when you invest in something, and put good people behind it, you get results. Millions of people across the country have found a lifeline—a compassionate voice on the other end of the line, ready to listen, ready to care,” said Secretary Becerra. “But our work is not done – not until 988 is widely known not just as the number to call to talk to a caring counselor, but to also get connected to behavioral health resources within a person’s state or territory. We must ensure that every person in need knows that help is just a phone call, text or chat away.”

“Georouting calls to 9-8-8 will be a significant improvement to this life-saving system, facilitating faster response times to residents in need while protecting the privacy of those who dial for assistance,” said National Association of Counties Executive Director Matthew Chase. “The FCC has taken an important step towards georouting. We are grateful to Senators Padilla and Tillis, Representative Cárdenas, and FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel for their leadership on this issue. We look forward to continuing to work with our federal partners as this proposal moves forward.”

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) announced today seeks to address the discrepancies and inefficiencies of the current system by proposing the adoption of a rule that would require a georouting solution to be implemented for all wireless calls to the 9-8-8 Lifeline while balancing the privacy needs of individuals in crisis. Georouting refers to technical solutions that enable calls to be directed based on the location of the caller without transmitting the caller’s precise location information. These solutions would permit wireless calls to the 9-8-8 Lifeline to be directed to nearby crisis centers based on factors such as the cell tower that originated the call rather than the area code of the wireless device used to place the call. This system would maintain any privacy requirements carriers may have about the nature of such sensitive calls.

Reliable, timely access to the 9-8-8 Lifeline is crucial to linking people experiencing a suicidal or mental health crisis with immediate support. The bipartisan 9-8-8 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline has provided critical support for Americans in crisis since it was launched in 2005. The Lifeline offers 24/7 safe, confidential support free of charge to suffering individuals nationwide. Over 200 local crisis centers assist with the Lifeline network, helping connect people to lifesaving mental health resources.

Senator Padilla has been a strong advocate for expanding mental health care access, especially for underserved communities. In October 2023, Padilla, Tillis, and Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) announced the launch of the bipartisan Senate Mental Health Caucus to serve as a forum for Senators to collaborate on and promote bipartisan legislation and solutions, hold events to raise awareness of critical mental health issues, and destigmatize mental health. Last year, Padilla also introduced a trio of bills to address the unique mental health needs of military childrenLatinos, and farm workers. He also supported the passage last Congress of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which includes major investments in community-based mental health services. Padilla also previously highlighted the 9-8-8 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for Californians alongside California Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan and state mental health experts.


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