Thursday, September 21, 2023
Thursday, September 21, 2023
Thursday, September 21, 2023

Pennsylvania House Passes Bills to Boost 911 and 988 Hotline Funding




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The Pennsylvania House of Representatives gave the green light to proposed legislation on Wednesday, aiming to increase fees on phone bills in order to provide additional support for county-run emergency communication centers and the state’s 988 suicide hotline, Your Content has learned.

With a vote of 121-82, the 911 bill secured passage and seeks to raise the current monthly fee of $1.65 to $1.97 for Pennsylvania residents.

The generated funds will be utilized for equipment upgrades, operational costs, and the implementation of new technologies.

The bill is projected to generate an extra $30 million, contributing to a total of $365 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

In a separate vote of 113-90, the House also approved the 988 bill, which introduces a new 6-cent fee effective from January 1.

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This fee is expected to generate an estimated $12 million annually to support the operations of call centers, including staff resources, call routing, and other vital services.

Both bills received bipartisan support, with Democrats and a few Republicans backing the measures.

Additionally, the proposed fees will be adjusted annually in accordance with inflation. The legislation will now proceed to the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

These initiatives come on the heels of a unanimous decision by the House on Tuesday to reduce monthly phone bills by exempting cell phone usage from the 6% sales tax and the 5% gross receipts tax.

If approved by the state Senate, this move is anticipated to save Pennsylvanians an estimated $124 million annually.

According to a House Democrat spokesperson, under the proposed tax cut alone, consumers can expect a reduction of approximately 79 cents in 2024.

When combined with the proposed increases from the 911 and 988 bills, the net reduction would amount to around 41 cents per month in 2024.

Representative Jared Solomon, a Democrat from Philadelphia and sponsor of the 911 bill, emphasized the importance of modernizing Pennsylvania’s outdated emergency response system, which currently relies on technology from the 1970s and 80s.

He asserted that the primary responsibility of the government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens and urged his colleagues to vote in favor of the bill, promoting safer communities.

However, opponents raised concerns over tying the fee increase to inflation and referred to it as an “infinity tax.”

They also expressed doubts about the likelihood of the proposed tax cut passing in the Senate and fully offsetting the costs.

Representative Bryan Cutler, a Republican from Lancaster County, voiced skepticism, highlighting the government’s track record of not following through on its promises.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania expressed support for the increase in 911 funds but advocated for a higher fee to adequately sustain emergency services.

In the previous year, the United States launched the nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline (988).

While the federal government provided significant funding to assist states in establishing crisis response systems and emergency mental health centers, sustaining the necessary funding falls on individual states.

Several other states have also allocated funds for these services, some of which are derived from phone bill fees, according U.S. News.

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