A little-known phone number to help people find resources when they need them should be expanded to all Americans, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and three United Way officials said today at press conference in Sunnyvale.
The number is 2-1-1. The system was created a decade ago to assist people to find help or resources in non-emergency situations. Yet it "only reaches two-thirds of the U.S. population and includes less than half the counties in California," Eshoo said.
But it could also help people find work during a troubled economy, and thus aid in the national effort to recover from the current recession, she said.
Eshoo has introduced legislation that has received widespread bipartisan support in Congress. But the bill, called the "Calling for 211 Act," or H.R.211/S.211, will expire at the end of this congressional session if it is not brought up for a vote and approved, she warned.
Officials of United Way, which operates the phone line, shared the 9:30 a.m. press conference. Eshoo was joined by CEO Peter Manzo of United Ways of California, CEO Carole Leigh Hutton of United Way Silicon Valley and CEO Anne Wilson of United Way of the Bay Area.
Wilson, whose agency operates 211 in five Bay Area counties, said the line "is serving as a lifeline for struggling families during these tough times.
"All people, everywhere, need to be able to dial 211 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to get the help they need in the event of a personal crisis or a regional disaster. This can only happen if H.R. 211 passes this year.
"Without federal funding, expanding our 211 call centers to adequately serve growing needs will be a significant challenge," she said.
Hutton said preserving 211 now is crucial, given that calls have increased 50 percent since the economic crisis began in 2008.
She said the 211 service "is a critical driver for economic recovery in our region -- and across the nation -- for Americans who need to connect with community services to help rebuild their lives."
"Without federal funding, current plans to expand 211 to the entire state of California cannot move forward," Manzo said. While the service exists in urban areas, Manzo said "rural counties, where health and human services are more scarce, are in even greater need of 211 to connect people with help." But those areas usually lack funds to pay for the service, he said.
"Calling for 211" has more than enough support in state Congress for passage -- 243 cosponsors in the House, 61 in the Senate -- but the bill will expire if it does not come up for a vote before the end of the year.
"I've worked hard to make sure the bill has the votes it needs to pass. Now I'm working closely with Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Waxman of the House Energy and Commerce to bring up the bill for a vote this year, preferably prior to our August recess," Eshoo said.
"People across the country can help with this effort by calling their legislators and asserting that 211 is a priority for their communities."