Can you explain what 211 is? And why doesn’t Quincy have it? What needs to happen for Quincy to get it?
211 is an easy-to-remember telephone number assigned by the Federal Communications Commission to streamline access to health and human services. 211 is available on a 24-hour basis. It connects residents to a wide variety of human services or social services across the state.
If someone needs information or referral services but has little or no prior knowledge or experience, dialing 211 is simple. Once a person dials 211, a professional information and referral specialist will refer or connect that caller to the correct agency based on the services needed.
Callers to 211 can get help with needs such as food, shelter, counseling, income supports, employment, healthcare, services for specialized populations such as the elderly and persons with disabilities and much more. All calls are free, anonymous and confidential.
Funding a problem for 211 in many states
United Way Atlanta launched 211 services in 1997. According to the Illinois Department of Human Services website, 46 states, along with Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, are providing 211 services at some level. Twenty-three states, along with Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, have 211 systems that are accessible to the entire population.
Illinois is not one of those 23 states.
Funding is a major challenge for many states. It has led to the formulation of public/private partnership models whose typical funding sources include local United Ways, community foundations, corporate support and federal and local government.
Jeremy Wingerter, CEO of the United Way of Adams County, said Adams County offers a similar service. However, the United Way of Adams County helpline (217-224-1223) is not staffed 24 hours a day.
“Someone calls us, and my colleagues will gather information, find out what their need is and refer them to an appropriate agent, agency or agencies,” he said. “So you may call and ask for rental help or utility help. Someone will put me in touch with general assistance at Two Rivers or whoever can help.
“211 and our system could complement each other. If you think about it, ours is a very high touch, warm kind of pass off to the agency. With 211, maybe the first initial step would be if I’m just calling to find out where the food pantries are in my area or how do I sign up to get my taxes done. Very general assistance. Then 211 may share that information with us. We can find out a little bit more and have that personal touch for them. 211 is not going to take over and replace what we’re already doing.”
Three pilot programs have started
211 has partnered with Personal Assistants Telephone Help (PATH) in Illinois to cover other parts of the state. Three organizations that serve as Illinois pilot sites are:
- United Way 211 in Davenport, Iowa, serving Rock Island County.
- PATH, Inc. in Bloomington, serving McLean, Livingston and DeWitt counties
- United Way of Greater St. Louis in St. Louis, serving Calhoun, Clinton, Greene, Jersey, Macoupin, Madison, Monroe, Randolph and St. Clair counties
A map of 211 implementation throughout Illinois shows Adams, Pike, Brown and Hancock counties are part of a large section of the state considered “potential implementation for PATH.”
Fifteen other southwestern counties have the same designation. The map lists Cook, DuPage and Will counties, along with seven counties in the Peoria area, as “unassigned.”
Wingerter says the United Way is talking with legislators about getting $1.8 million in 2022-23 to support current 211 efforts. He hopes all counties in Illinois will be covered by late 2023 or early 2024.
“That’s really what’s going to be the easiest, best way to implement that in our area,” he said.
Counties surrounding Adams ‘have nothing right now’
Wingerter said 211/PATH receives approximately 40,000 calls a year. He expects that number to increase if 211 begins supporting more counties.
The benefit of Adams County joining with a statewide 211 service would be that 211 could answer general questions to relieve the local call load.
“Our (United Way of Adams County helpline) staff member does a great job about checking for voicemails on nights and weekends, but that’s above and beyond,” Wingerter said. “So with this service, we would be staffed 24 hours for someone in this county to talk to instead of waiting back for a message.”
Wingerter thought a 211 service would be more beneficial to counties surrounding Adams County.
“They have nothing right now.” He said. “We get a lot of calls from, let’s say Pike or Hancock, and we know a few services that we’ve just learned about. We will refer people to (those services), but it’s not like the program and the system that we have in Adams County.”
A 211 Collaboration Board appointed by Gov. JB Pritzker is guiding the state’s 211 pilot program. The board comprises representatives from the governor’s office, Illinois Commerce Commission, Illinois Department of Human Services, Illinois Department of Public Health, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Illinois Department of Employment Security, Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Illinois Department on Aging and Illinois Department of Human Rights.
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