Thursday, July 22, 2010

10th Anniversary of 2-1-1 Designation by FCC

Ten years ago this week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determined a scarce resource, 2-1-1 –a remaining 3-digit abbreviated dialing code—should be used for access to community information and referral. Just as 9-1-1 connects people to emergency services, 2-1-1 connects people to important human services.

In the 10 years since the FCC’s decision, 2-1-1 has been enabled—at least in part—in 46 states. Last year, 2-1-1 centers answered over 16 million calls, connecting people with job options, food, housing, education, counseling and much more. Local and state agencies rely on 2-1-1 as the “go-to” number for connecting victims, volunteers and donors with information that speeds recovery post disaster.

Over 300 members of Congress agree that 2-1-1 should be available for all Americans. A broadly bi-partisan group of 246 Representatives and 61 Senators have co-sponsored the Calling for 2-1-1 Act (H.R.211/S.211), a bill that would authorize a modest matching grant program to support 2-1-1. The overwhelming majority of Congress understands that 2-1-1 needs to be available to all people everywhere 24 hours a day so that people can get the help they need in a personal crisis or natural disaster.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the 2010 hurricane season could be “one of the most active on record.” If forecasters are right, 2-1-1 Centers will be besieged with calls as they were during prior hurricanes, floods and wildfires. Yet, many Americans still do not have access to 2-1-1. How will they find disaster recovery information? How will others learn how to volunteer or help? The overwhelming volume of calls to 2-1-1, due to the economic recession, has already pushed 2-1-1 to the edge of its call-handling capacity. Americans deserve to have 2-1-1 enabled and ready —in advance of the next big disaster.

On this 10-year anniversary of the FCC Order to designate 2-1-1, local community leaders are calling on Congress to enact the Calling For 2-1-1 Act before the August recess and before any new major disasters hit the U.S. 2-1-1 has proven itself as a cost-effective answer to help residents navigate the complex and ever-changing maze of human services—during personal crises and natural disasters.

Media are invited to tour our local 2-1-1 Center (50 S. Belcher Rd. Suite 116, Clearwater, Florida) and interview local leaders and/or members of Congress. Because calls to 2-1-1 are confidential, tours of 2-1-1 Centers should be planned in advance and require confidentiality forms.

Florida Congressional Support for 2-1-1 Legislation Senator Bill Nelson (D) and Representatives Allen Boyd (D-2nd), Gus Bilirakis (R-9th), Virginia Brown-Waite (R-5th), Corrine Brown (D-3rd), Kathy Castor (D-11th), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-21st), Alan Grayson (D-8th), Alcee Hastings (D-23rd), Ron Klein (D-22nd), Susanne Kosmas (D-24th), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-18th), and C.W. Bill Young (R-10th) are co-sponsors of the broadly bipartisan bill named The Calling for 2-1-1 Act (S. 211/H.R. 211). The Calling for 2-1-1 Act would authorize a federal matching grant program for 2-1-1. The Florida 211 Network and its Centers have already secured the required 50% match through philanthropic sources. Members of the Florida delegation recognize that H.R.211/S.211 is a modest investment to match the state and private investments already in place.

The Florida Legislature recognized the importance of the Florida 211 Network and in 2002 passed legislation (F.S. 409.918) that “authorizes the planning, development, and, subject to appropriations, the implementation of a statewide Florida 211 Network, which shall serve as the single point of coordination for information and referral for health and human services.” In 2009 the Legislature designated “The Florida Alliance of Information and Referral Services as the 211 collaborative organization for the state which is responsible for studying, designing, implementing, supporting, and coordinating the Florida 211 Network and for receiving federal grants.”

The Florida Alliance of Information and Referral Services, Inc. (FLAIRS) is a statewide nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen the health and human service information and referral provider network in the State of Florida through advocacy, coordination and education. FLAIRS members include representatives from a variety of information and referral hotlines such as 2-1-1s, United Way information and referral helplines, elder helplines, child care resource and referral providers, crisis hotlines, 3-1-1s, disability hotline providers, volunteer centers and others who provide information services. See www.FLAIRS.org.

The Florida 211 Network is a cooperative effort of the Florida Alliance of Information and Referral Services and the United Way of Florida to fulfill the mandate of SB 1276, adopted by the Florida State Legislature in 2002, to make 2-1-1 available to every person in Florida. Certified Florida 211 Network members are listed below. All 2-1-1 centers can be reached by calling the 2-1-1 number in their respective region or by using the 10-digit numbers listed. In 2009 more than 1.1 million calls were answered by the Florida 2-1-1 hotlines.

2-1-1 Tampa Bay Cares, Inc. serving Pinellas, Hernando & Citrus Counties Pinellas Co.
Hotline Number: 727-210-4211; Hernando Co. #: 727-210-4212; Citrus Co. #: 727-210-4213 www.211tampabay.org; Micki Thompson, Executive Director

2-1-1 Big Bend serving Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Taylor and Wakulla Counties
Hotline Number: 850-617-6333 or www.211bigbend.org; Randy Nicklaus, President

2-1-1 Brevard serving Brevard County Hotline Number: 321-632-6688 or www.211brevard.org; Libby Donoghue, Executive Director 2-1-1 Broward serving Broward County
Hotline Number: 954-537-0211 or www.211-broward.org; Sheila J. Smith, President & CEO

2-1-1 Charlotte, Charlotte County Public Safety serving Charlotte County
Hotline Number: 941-205-2161; Chief Dennis Didio, Director of Public Safety or Faezeh Andrews, 2-1-1 Supervisor

United Way 2-1-1, Heart of Florida United Way serving Seminole, Orange, and Osceola Counties; Marion County; and Alachua, Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Levy, and Union Counties; Gainesville Area Hotline Number: 352-332-4636; Orlando Area
Hotline Number: 407-839-4357 or www.211communityresources.org; Larry Olness, VP Community Services

211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast serving Indian River, Okeechobee, St. Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach Counties
Hotline Number: 561-383-1112 or www.211palmbeach.org; Susan K. Buza, Executive Director

2-1-1 Tampa Bay A Division of Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, serving Hillsborough County
Hotline Number: 813-234-1234 or www.211atyourfingertips.org; Debra L. Harris, Director, 2-1-1 Tampa Bay

2-1-1 Volusia-Flagler serving Flagler and Volusia Counties
Hotline Number: 386-253-0564 or www.unitedway-vfc.org; Tim Sylvia, Director

Switchboard of Miami, Inc. serving Miami-Dade County
Hotline Number: 305-358-4357 or www.switchboardmiami.org; Catherine Penrod, CEO United Way 211

United Way of Lee County serving Lee, Glades and Hendry Counties Lee County
Hotline Number: 239-433-3900; Glades/Hendry Counties: 800-877-9234 or www.unitedwaylee.org; Linda Pankow, Director, United Way 211

United Way 2-1-1 of Manasota, Inc. serving DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota Counties
Hotline Numbers: 941-485-1880 (Sarasota County); 941-308-4357 (Manatee County); 941-366-5025 (Other) or www.uw211manasota.net; Jessica Ventimiglia, Executive Director

United Way 2-1-1 of Pasco County serving Pasco County
Hotline Number: 727-845-4357 or 877-828-8929 (toll free); Kristen King, Community Investment & Relationship Director

United Ways of Northeast Florida 2-1-1 serving Duval, Nassau, St. Johns, Clay, Putnam, Baker, Columbia, Hamilton and Suwannee Counties
Hotline Number: 904-632-0600 or www.nefl211.org; Robert E. Arnold, Director