Representatives Higgins and Fitzpatrick Introduce Legislation Improving Community Access to Human Services & Mental Health Support

The HELP Act Provides Federal Funding for the 211 & 988 Non-Emergency Lines

U.S. Representatives Brian Higgins (D-NY) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) announced the introduction of the Human Services Emergency Logistics Program (HELP) Act. The bipartisan bill would increase funding for alternate resource, response, and referral systems like the 211 Network and the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, reducing wait times and more efficiently connecting people with disabilities, older Americans, families, and people experiencing a mental health crisis to local resources.

“Each day millions of Americans face challenges but are unsure where to turn for help,” said Congressman Brian Higgins. “Our community of Western New York experienced several tragedies, including a racist mass shooting and a deadly blizzard, during a prolonged pandemic. During these times 211 Western New York and the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline were there to connect residents to food, transportation, shelter, mental health support, & other needs. I am proud to introduce the bipartisan HELP Act, because it provides critical funding so communities like my own can continue addressing gaps in access to basic needs.”

“In communities like my district that border large cities, emergency response systems are often overrun, and we must ensure that localities have adequate resources to respond to various crises,” said Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick. “I’m proud to partner with Rep. Higgins on the bipartisan HELP Act to increase access to mental health and crisis response resources for those in need.”

“211 plays a key role in connecting families and community members with critical health and human services nationwide,” said Angela F. Williams, United Way Worldwide President and CEO. “United Way Worldwide is proud to support the 211 network and appreciates the leadership of Senators Casey and Moran as well as Representatives Higgins and Fitzpatrick. We urge Congress to pass the bipartisan HELP Act to increase the capacity, reach, and impact of both 211 and 988 as essential community resources,” she added.

“United Way of Buffalo & Erie County applauds Representative Higgins, Representative Fitzpatrick and Senators Casey and Moran for seeing the critical role that 211 plays in linking community members with a network of local services,” says Trina Burruss, President and CEO of United Way of Buffalo & Erie County.“The bipartisan HELP Act will provide much needed capacity to the 211 and 988 systems and ensure more of our neighbors have access to help when they need it most.”

Dawn Vanderkooi, Director of 211 WNY added, “211 is more than our robust database of community resources.  We are a diverse group of trained community resource specialists having conversations with the residents of our community about their needs and where they can go to get assistance. It’s the conversation that includes not only information on the resources to help with their immediate needs, it’s also addressing those underlying needs and providing vital information about how to access those services. Information about how to apply, what you need to bring with you, what bus you can take to get there, etc. We provide hope and help alleviate some of the frustration and anxiety residents may feel when trying to access services. It’s about linkage and connection, the linkage to the services, the connection to the people.”

“At United Way, we fight for the health, education, and financial stability of every person, in every community. That means ensuring that all people can connect to critical resources like help with basic needs, mental health, and human services,” said Marissa Christie, President and CEO of United Way of Bucks County.“211 and 988 make these things accessible, which is why the HELP Act is essential. We are grateful to Senator Casey and Representative Fitzpatrick for introducing it.”

“211 contact centers across the country are experiencing increased need for services and requests for basic needs in an economic environment where the increased costs of household essentials is making it difficult for working households to make ends meet. The mission of 988 to support individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis and connect them to life-saving resources is complementary to 211’s mission,” says Kristen Rotz, – President of United Way of Pennsylvania and Executive Director of PA 211. “The United Way thanks Senator Casey and Congressman Fitzpatrick, along with the other bipartisan champions for their leadership on this issue. Together, 211 and 988 work as critical infrastructure to strengthen communities across the United States, and the bipartisan HELP Act will provide necessary resources to build this infrastructure.”

The nationwide 211 Network and the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline quickly connect people with vital resources, while preserving 911 calls for emergencies. Throughout the pandemic, the 211 Network responded to more than 41 million requests for help. In 2022 alone they answered more than 18 million phone calls and responded to 2.4 million text messages and online chats. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over the past year, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline increased the number of calls answered by 52 percent, online chats answered by 90 percent, and text messages answered by 1,022 percent.

The HELP Act will reduce the number of non-criminal, non-fire, and non-medical emergency calls from 911 systems and expand the reach of state and regional 211 and 988 systems by creating a consistent stream of federal funding to support the referral lines. The bill provides funding to help states build out 211 and 988 systems, linking a greater number of callers to both emergency and long-term human services, as well as mental health support. Additionally, it creates an oversight system for 211 and 988 networks that will provide annual evaluations and recommendations to ensure that both networks are reaching communities in greatest need.

In July 2022, the bipartisan National Suicide Hotline Designation Act was signed into law, authorizing 988 as the new three-digit number for the Suicide and Mental Health Crisis Lifeline. Formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the crisis line provides free and confidential support to those experiencing a mental health crisis by call, text, and chat 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is part of a national network of more than 200 local crisis centers.

In 2002 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated 211 as the three-digit number for information and referrals to social services. 211 agencies across the United States help individuals and families access basic needs like housing, food, transportation, healthcare, and more.

The HELP Act is supported by United Way Worldwide, Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, National Association of the Deaf (NAD), The Autism Society of America (ASA), Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), ACHIEVA, National Down Syndrome Congress, Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association of Pennsylvania, United Way of Lancaster County, the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, and the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. The legislation is also being introduced in the United States Senate by Senator Bob Casey, who serves as Chair of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging.

Panorama Hispano is the regional news and information newspaper for Hispanic and other diverse communities.

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