ST. PAUL-Appropatiing nearly $1 million is a life and death matter, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says.
The governor on Thursday, April 12, asked lawmakers to quickly find that money so a statewide suicide hotline can remain in operation. It was one of several topics he discussed during a session with Capitol reporters.
Crisis Connection is the only center in Minnesota taking calls from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and it will be forced to start shutting down May 21 unless it gets funding help.
The call center, located in Richfield, is owned and operated by Oakdale-based Canvas Health, a nonprofit community mental health agency. It would take at least $969,000 annually to keep it operating, said Crisis Connection Manager Laura Weber.
Dayton requested funding that would be used to provide grants to non-profit organizations around the state to operate call centers.
"Minnesotans need a state-based suicide prevention lifeline that is able to serve our entire state," Dayton said. "The need for this essential service is underscored by recent increases in suicide rates in Minnesota."
One of the most-discussed topics of the 2018 Legislature has been mental health. While much of the mental health talk centers on school safety issues, suicide prevention also has come up.
It was not immediately clear how Dayton's proposal may be received by lawmakers who are about five weeks away from ending their 2018 session, although several legislators have sponsored bills that would fund the issue.
In 2017, Crisis Connection served more than 52,000 Minnesota callers.
The hotline was set to close in July because of the funding issues, but a $139,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Health became a temporary reprieve.
Dayton said that as a young man he worked in a Boston social services agency and came to realize the importance of suicide hotlines because "people with training can save lives and buy some time for onsite assistance."
On other topics Thursday, Dayton said:
• The Forest Lake City Council's 3-2 vote to reject a proposal to build a mental health facility for young people was "despicable and appalling." He said the facility would replace a horse operation, and provide for much needed space to help youths with mental issues. "It's just appalling that three people who are in a position of leadership in their city can just so heartlessly turn their backs on youth ages 7 to 17 who have need."
• He did not want to discuss it much, but went after former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has entered the governor's race. "He's not accurately reflecting his own eight years," Dayton said of the Republican candidate, who has been critical of state government in the eight years Dayton has held the office.
• The troubled vehicle license and registration system known as MNLARS needs more telephone operators to handle a massive backlog of calls. But Republican legislislators balk at the suggestion of spending more money for operators. "They don't want us to answer the phones when Minnesotans are calling with problems?" Dayton asked. "The system's overloaded, with a lot of people getting busy signals and hanging up."
• The Legislature should provide $8.7 million to allow the struggling forest products industry. One way the money would help, the governor said, is to open up some private woodland for harvest, especially aspen trees. He said the forest products industry supports 64,000 jobs in Minnesota and contributes more than $16 billion to the state economy.
• At least $35 million should be added to the Minnesota Rural Finance Authority. The organization provides loans to farmers that cannot be obtained from traditional lenders. Without the fiscal injection, the authority could run out of money. Dayton said the money is needed now since farmers face low crop prices and many report declining incomes.