Steinberg Institute

Mental health crisis response in California takes a huge step forward thanks to a $20 million funding commitment to launch 988

Posted on Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Steinberg Institute and The Kennedy Forum are thrilled to announce that today California took a monumental step forward to advance compassionate mental health treatment by adopting our joint budget proposal and investing $20 million into the three-digit mental health crisis hotline —  988.

Last year, Congress took historic action and unanimously passed legislation designating “988” as the new three-digit alternative to 911 for mental health crises nationwide. This easy-to-remember number will transform our nation’s and our state’s mental health crisis system. When fully implemented, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, people across the country will be able to call, text, or chat with 988 and connect with a continuum of crisis care including counseling, crisis stabilization services, and mobile crisis teams staffed by trained mental health professionals rather than law enforcement.

The first critical step in this transformation is connecting the 988 number to crisis call centers across the country, building out the network on which the nation’s entire mental health crisis system will rest upon. Federal legislation requires existing call centers be linked to 988 by July 16, 2022.

Today, California stepped into its role as a national leader by appropriating $20 million to prepare our network of California call centers for this transition. This commitment will ensure critical investments in  workforce expansion, training, capacity development, and coordination of county-run mobile crisis services for these call centers to adapt to the anticipated 300% increase in call volume in just the first year of implementation. In short, next July when a Californian in crisis dials 988, someone on the other end is ready to answer the call.

“This type of swift action is exactly what we need right now to show the rest of the nation that investing in mental health should be a top priority,” said former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, founder of The Kennedy Forum. “California is walking the walk when it comes to deconstructing the antiquated systems that hold far too many people down and harm communities.”

This budget initiative was led by the Steinberg Institute and The Kennedy Forum and joined by our co-sponsors Contra Costa County, the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, Mental Health America of California, NAMI of California, the Miles Hall Foundation, and NAMI of Contra Costa County. We were thrilled to see the Legislature make this a top priority with Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan and 52 of her bipartisan colleagues supporting this request.

“This $20M investment is a first step towards creating an easier to access system for mental health care,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, founder of the Steinberg Institute. “But it’s just a first step. We’re going to continue to fight for sustained funding for a mental health crisis response system that includes mobile crisis teams and appropriate follow-up care. Our jails and emergency rooms can no longer be our primary treatment for people in crisis.” 

The Steinberg Institute and The Kennedy Forum have been partnering with a national coalition of leading mental health advocates and crisis hotline center providers since 2020 — before the federal legislation establishing 988 was even passed. Together we drafted national model legislation, created forums to share lessons learned, and walked alongside one another to ensure that people in California and across the country have access to this life-saving system.

While AB 988 (Bauer-Kahan), also known as the Miles Hall Lifeline Act, the companion bill to this budget request which would have established the framework for the entire 988 system did not move forward this year, the Steinberg Institute and The Kennedy Forum will be back in January linking arms with our partners to ensure that California takes the next step in implementing the “988” system.

About the Steinberg Institute 

The Steinberg Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising the profile and increasing the effectiveness of mental health policy-making in California. Founded in 2015 by Sacramento Mayor and former state Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the institute upends the status quo by inspiring leadership on brain health issues and helping enact sweeping improvements in California mental health policy. To learn more, please visit www.steinberginstitute.org.

About The Kennedy Forum

Founded in 2013 by former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), The Kennedy Forum leads a national dialogue on transforming the health care system by uniting mental health advocates, business leaders, and government agencies around a common set of principles, including full implementation of the Federal Parity Law. Launched in celebration of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s signing of the landmark Community Mental Health Act, the nonprofit aims to achieve health equity by advancing evidence-based practices, policies, and programming for the treatment of mental health and addiction. The Kennedy Forum’s “Don’t Deny Me” campaign educates consumers about their rights under the Federal Parity Law and connects them with essential appeals guidance and resources. To learn more about The Kennedy Forum, please visit www.thekennedyforum.org.