Gov. Josh Shapiro wants to spend millions over the next five years to expand access to mental health treatment in a comprehensive plan that addresses suicide prevention, student wellness and community programs.

And, he calculated a new way to pay for some of it: raise state 911 fees to support the 988 national crisis and suicide hotline system and increase funding for 14 prevention call centers across the state.

“It has become clear that mental health is just as important as physical health,” Shapiro said, noting the long-lasting effects of the epidemic. “Pennsylvanians have somewhere to turn in times of need.”

Residents pay phone companies $1.65 per month for 911 service This surcharge will increase to $2.03, of which 5 cents will compensate the 988 system.

Future increases would be tied to inflation to ensure operating costs for emergency medical services receive adequate state support — an idea that Republican lawmakers fear will worsen the state’s fiscal woes in coming years, Center Square previously reported.

Overall, he expects to give counties another $50 million to fund emergency services, a 23% increase over the past seven years, he said, despite flat state support. This, in addition to staffing shortages, means that Pennsylvania’s EMS system is on the brink of collapse.

Lawmakers have offered other ideas to help close the funding gap, including redirecting car fees or hotel taxes to support emergency services. Local officials also said organizing EMS at a county level, versus a municipal level, would reduce the burden

Other elements of Shapiro’s plan focus on the youth mental health crisis, which is only growing in Pennsylvania, The Center Square previously reported.

The budget proposal would propose $100 million to school districts to hire qualified mental health professions students “Can believe, in a place that is family, and without shame or stigma.”

Funding will be distributed in three ways: $80 million for school-based mental health support block grants; $10 million for paid clinical internships; and $10 million to train school-based mental health professionals.

Community-based mental health services will also see a $20 million increase, with additional funding in successive years for a total of $60 million by 2027.

Pennsylvania’s counties provide a spectrum of mental health services that Shapiro says are critical to the well-being of its residents. State aid, however, has not kept pace with growing demand for those services and a shortage of workers prompted by a tight labor market.

Shapiro wants to use the $4 million to create community-based programs that don’t require the level of treatment provided at Norristown and Torrance State Hospitals, or would serve people who are exempt from those institutions.

By supporting these initiatives, Shapiro said Pennsylvania can reduce or prevent delays in admission to state facilities for those who need their eligibility determined or restored. Doing so keeps the state in compliance with the Department of Human Services’ interim settlement agreement and keeps individuals out of prison, he said.

To address the unique safety and mental health issues facing the agricultural community, Shapiro proposed spending $200,000 to supplement federal support for a mental health hotline and specialized training and outreach. According to CDC data released in 2020, farmers die by suicide at a higher rate than most other occupations.

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