Dec 12 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Thom Tillis and Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA), co-founders of the bipartisan Senate Mental Health Caucus, recently introduced the Local 9-8-8 Response Act of 2023. The legislation would expedite the process of connecting callers with their nearest call center so they can receive appropriate care from mental health professionals as quickly and as safely as possible, while still protecting user privacy.

“From the creation of the 9-8-8 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline to historic mental health investments included in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, we have made substantial progress in recent years in expanding access to quality mental health care,” said Senator Tillis. “This legislation furthers that goal by ensuring those experiencing a mental health crisis receive rapid and localized care when calling the Lifeline, and I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with my colleagues to make lifesaving mental health care more accessible.”


The 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. This system leads to callers oftentimes being connected to centers that cannot connect them with additional mental health assistance. As awareness of the hotline increases, it is crucial to ensure that the line can quickly connect callers to a range of mental health services and a full continuum of care. 

Specifically, the legislation would improve access to and the accuracy of 9-8-8 response by:

  • Requiring the FCC to route calls based on the proximity of a caller to the call center, not their area code. The bill specifies that a caller’s specific location should not be revealed or discernible;
  • Instructing carriers to allow calls and texts to 9-8-8 even if their phone plan is inactive or the carrier is experiencing service interruptions or failures, just as they currently do for 911 calls; 
  • Obligating multi-line systems like hotel and office phones to support the direct dialing of 9-8-8, rather than requiring a caller to dial 9 or another number before dialing 9-8-8.

“The Local 9-8-8 Response Act improves access to life- saving supports and mental health resources by requiring calls and texts to the 9-8-8 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline be routed based on the caller’s proximity to the local call center rather than by area code,” said Robert Gebbia, Chief Executive Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “AFSP is grateful to Senator Padilla and Senator Tillis for their bipartisan leadership to enhance access to 9-8-8 by ensuring individuals in crisis receive timely support, while maintaining privacy.” 

“The 9-8-8 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is saving lives and serving as the entry point to a reimagined mental health crisis system. NAMI is grateful to Sens. Padilla and Tillis for introducing the Local 9-8-8 Response Act to ensure people calling 9-8-8 get connected to the local resources that help them get well and stay well,” said Hannah Wesolowski, Chief Advocacy Officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). “This bill will ensure that help seekers reaching out to 9-8-8 get connected to the support they need in their community.” 

A one-page summary of the bill is available HERE. Full text of the bill is available HERE.