Around 1,700 young people in Massachusetts have texted a youth suicide-prevention help line since it launched last year, and the program’s operators are now wondering how they’ll keep it running after a funding cut in this year’s state budget.

The $56 billion budget that lawmakers sent Gov. Maura Healey last week steered $1.4 million toward the suicide-prevention organization Samaritans, Inc. When Healey signed the budget Wednesday, she reduced the funding for Samaritans, vetoing $1 million that had been earmarked for the operation and expansion of Hey Sam, an anonymous mental health hotline that lets young people text trained peers for help.

Samaritans CEO Kathleen Marchi said she wants to keep Hey Sam running, and hopes lawmakers will vote this fall to put the money back in the budget.

“I don't want to deny young people in the state of Massachusetts the opportunity to reach a service that they've said they wanted, we know that they need, and that we are successful in delivering, so I feel like we've got to figure this out,” Marchi said.

She said she doesn’t see “malicious intent” in Healey’s veto but believes the administration “didn't have the information they needed to make a decision in this case.”

In vetoing the Hey Sam funding, Healey wrote that the program’s goals “are sufficiently funded through” a separate suicide prevention and intervention line item.

That suicide prevention account, within the Department of Public Health, receives about $8 million in funding from this year’s budget, up $1 million from last year. The money funds some specific initiatives: implementation of a statewide suicide prevention plan, an elder suicide prevention program, a veterans-in-crisis hotline, and costs associated with the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline.

Healey's administration and finance secretary, Matthew Gorzkowicz, said the budget "does invest significantly in suicide prevention," pointing particularly to the 988 hotline system.

He said the Samaritans money "was perceived to be a bit redundant in that regard, in that this was duplicative of funding that we've tried to invest somewhere else."

"Our focus has really been trying to implement the 988 system and make investments there where it's appropriate," he said.

Samaritans is one of the organizations that answers 988 calls, but Marchi said Hey Sam is a distinct service that links youth in crisis directly with other young people over text. She said the peer support “is bigger than any of us imagined.”

“We're training young people to say to each other, ‘Yeah, I get that, I hear you.' 'Tell me more about what that means.' 'What did it feel like when that happened?' 'What would it feel like if something changed?'” Marchi said. “Not saying how you should feel, what you should do, you should have done, you don’t do this. It’s a really different way of responding, and we know that young people have language that they use, and a style of speaking.”

Hey Sam was first funded as a pilot program two years ago, in the fiscal 2022 state budget, and lawmakers also included $1 million for it in last year’s budget.

Sen. Becca Rausch, a Needham Democrat, said the idea grew out of a youth town hall she held virtually during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The young people who participated were "very clear, very frank, and very brave in saying they need better and different mental health support," Rausch said.

"It's concerning to think about that service disintegrating, evaporating from young people, especially when we know that not only has it already helped thousands of people but there are droves more who want to be able to access Hey Sam," she said.

If Samaritans had received the $1 million earmarked in this year's budget for Hey Sam, the organization said it would have used the money to continue operations and help expand services, such as by adding more staff and extending the hours the help line is open. Hey Sam currently operates from 9 a.m. to midnight.

Healey said the budget as a whole "does include really significant investments in mental health." It increases the Department of Mental Health's funding for behavioral health initiatives by nearly $45 million.

"We know that there is a mental health crisis across this country and certainly here in the commonwealth," Healey said. "We know that many here have invested incredible time and resources and attention through legislation to address the crisis, whether it's happening in our schools or in homes or just with respect to substance use disorder. It's something that potentially affects every single family and person in the state."

Lawmakers have the option to override Healey's veto and put the Samaritans money back in the budget. That requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate.


If you or someone you know ages 15-24 is lonely, depressed, overwhelmed or suicidal, text Hey Sam at 439-726.

You can also call the  National Suicide Prevention Lifelineat 988 or use the  Crisis Text Lineby texting “Home” to 741741. More resources are available at  SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.