Assuaging fears funding would be further delayed, the Legislature’s budget committee on Tuesday approved $110,000 in annual funding for a Wisconsin-based suicide hotline.
The funding for the Suicide HOPELINE, a suicide prevention program implemented by the Kaukauna-based Center for Suicide Awareness, was set aside in the state budget, which passed in July, and the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee had the discretion to award the funds at any time.
But the committee’s leaders chose not to do so immediately because they wanted to wait for the Assembly’s Suicide Prevention Task Force to recommend the best possible use of the funds.
The 14-0 vote by Joint Finance Committee members will allow the Department of Health Services to release $110,000 annually in state funds to the HOPELINE. The Center for Suicide Awareness will then be required to submit an annual report on how it spends the money.
Democrats on the committee railed against the time it took to approve the funds.
“The money could have been given to help prevent suicide back in July, so it seems like we’re just kind of shuffling money around,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point.
Republicans, however, argued the committee needed to do its due diligence before releasing the funds.
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Barb Bigalke, executive director of the Center for Suicide Awareness, told the Wisconsin State Journal last month the delay in funding has hindered her organization’s ability to provide support to those in distress.
The HOPELINE provides immediate emotional support and resources for people in crisis via text message. It also collects data about the HOPELINE’s communications that can help local governments better address suicide. Bigalke said the HOPELINE so far has intervened in at least 110 suicide attempts since 2014.
Members of the bipartisan Assembly Speaker’s Task Force on Suicide Prevention unveiled recommendations during a news conference last week. In addition to funding for grants, coalitions and programs geared toward suicide prevention, the task force also recommended the Joint Finance Committee direct the Department of Health Services to release $110,000 annually to the Center for Suicide Awareness for the center’s HOPELINE program.
But that was a change of course. A draft of the task force’s recommendations obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal supported releasing the funds but would have recommended legislation to do so, which could have delayed funding to the center for months, if not indefinitely.
Members of the committee also voted unanimously to release $1 million this year and nearly $8 million next year provided in the state budget for a UW System Dairy Innovation Hub housed at UW-Madison, UW-Platteville and UW-River Falls.
The money would be used to fund research positions and equipment to address animal health, better human health and nutrition, protect land and water resources and grow farm businesses.
Committee members also voted to release $22.5 million annually in performance-based funding to the UW System.