With approximately 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States plus thousands of government agencies, finding health and human services help can be confusing and intimidating, leaving many people not knowing where to begin. That is why 2-1-1 was developed--as an easy‐to‐remember phone number for people in need of help to call.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set aside 2-1-1 as the number to use nationally for health and human services information and referral in 1999, and directed telephone providers to work with organizations like United Way to implement the service. Subsequently New York’s Public Service Commission assigned the number to 2-1-1 New York to develop the service on a statewide basis.
2-1-1 contact centers are staffed by trained specialists who quickly assess the callers’ needs and refer them to the help they need. 2-1-1 services are free, confidential, and accessible to everyone through multilingual capabilities. Information is also available online through comprehensive regional databases of government and nonprofit services.
2-1-1 has the potential to provide system wide cost savings through a reduction in 800 numbers used for nonprofits and state agencies.
2-1-1 offers the opportunity to maximize access to health and human services benefits such as child health insurance, the earned income tax credit, support for veterans, home heating assistance and many others.
2-1-1 increases the efficiency and effectiveness of government and not for profit service providers, who can utilize their time providing services rather than redirecting inappropriate inquiries.
Cumulative call reports enable communities to pinpoint areas of need and address gaps in service, thus enhancing a community’s health and human services capacity as well as the likelihood of positive change.
The 2-1-1 system helps people connect with education and training opportunities and find the means of addressing substance-abuse, child-care, and other issues that may be preventing their entry into the workforce.
2-1-1 provides full state coverage. There are ten 2-1-1 regions in New York State, each headed by a large nonprofit organization, in most cases a United Way, and in the case of New York City, the City of New York itself. Using six contact centers and two partner sites, they serve 100% of the state’s population. Each contact center, except for NYC, is a nonprofit with a long history of information and referral service provision.
2-1-1 services are available to all New Yorkers. In New York State in 2017, just under 2 million calls and 842 text based contacts were handled by 2-1-1 contact centers.
Additionally, the 2-1-1 online listings of services (containing nearly 69,000 programs and more than 29,000 organizations) were searched by millions of people, reflecting new ways for people to find the information and help they need. Visits to 2-1-1 websites totaled 18.6 million in 2017.
While initially developed with access to day-to-day human services in mind, 2-1-1 in NYS and across the country has proven to be an asset in disaster response and long-term recovery. 2-1-1 relieves 911 and other government agencies of calls for non-emergency assistance during and after a disaster. Past examples in New York State include snow and ice storms, flooding, as well as Hurricane Irene and Super storm Sandy.
Most recently, localized summer floods in upstate New York generated more than 450 calls to 2-1-1 in just a matter of days.
In response to Super storm Sandy, the New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) formally activated 2-1-1 to support the work of local and state government in disaster response and recovery. 2-1-1 handled about 180,000 calls in the weeks following the storm.
2-1-1 is meant to complement 911 by filling the gap between emergencies and urgent non-public-safety needs, like food and shelter. 2-1-1 helps relieve the burden of non-emergency calls on 9-1-1 and saves callers time by providing guidance and appropriate referrals to organizations that can meet the callers’ needs.
Local and state United Ways and members of NYSAIRS, the New York State Alliance of Information and Referral Systems have been developing 2-1-1 services across the state since 1999, when the Federal Communications Commission set aside 2-1-1 to be used for information and referral.
New York’s Public Service Commission assigned 2-1-1 to the 2-1-1 New York Collaborative in 2002 and to 2-1-1 New York, Inc. in 2010, with the charge to plan and implement 2-1-1 services across the state and provide oversight to the designation.
Each 2-1-1 region is managed by a lead organization. These are all legally incorporated 501(c)3 nonprofits (or in NYC, the City of New York itself), which have overall fiscal and operational responsibility for 2-1-1 in that region. 2-1-1 services generally follow the national and state standards for information and referral, commonly referred to as AIRS (Alliance of Information and Referral Systems) standards. These standards address service delivery, resource data bases, reporting and measurement, cooperative relationships, disaster preparedness and organizational effectiveness. Local lead organizations operating 2-1-1 in each region are reviewed by 2-1-1 New York, Inc. and provide regular reports. In NYC, 2-1-1 is co-located with the Mayor’s 311 system and falls under several additional City review and management processes.
The 2-1-1 designation is awarded to a Lead Organization for each region which must document the capacity of the region and contact centers to meet high standards for services. Each Lead Organization is a legally incorporated 501(c)3 nonprofit (or in NYC, the City of New York itself). Lead Organizations operating 2-1-1 in each region are reviewed by 2-1-1 New York, Inc. and provide regular reports. In NYC, 2-1-1 is co-located with the Mayor’s 311 system and falls under several additional City review and management processes.
Requirements to use the 2-1-1 number reflect national standards for information and referral known as AIRS (Alliance of Information and Referral Systems) standards. AIRS standards address data base development and maintenance, call answering and tracking, accessibility, staff training, and customer feedback and satisfaction, among others. Of particular importance to 2-1-1 New York is the need for each contact center to have a formal back-up plan and relationship with another contact center to insure continuity of service in the event of a disaster. The goal is to insure quality service regardless of where in NYS the consumer resides.
Although not all regions are served by an AIRS accredited contact center, all must document their capacity to meet AIRS standards for service. A key goal for 2-1-1 New York is that over time, each region will be served by an AIRS accredited contact center.
2-1-1 results in substantial cost avoidance for state governments. In Connecticut 2-1-1 Info Line now manages the “QuitLine”, a tobacco cessation hotline. 2-1-1 hired one program manager and trained the contact center specialists on how to handle QuitLine specific calls. It was estimated that without 2-1-1, QuitLine would have needed to establish its own contact center and add five to seven people to handle the calls. (source: 211 national web site http://www.211.org/benefits.html)
A study done at the University of Texas, Austin estimated that the benefit of a 2-1-1 statewide network to society would be between $83.7 million to $90.2 million over a ten year period (http://www.211.org/online/docs/LBJstudy.pdf).
A study in New Mexico estimates saving $19 million over five years including a reduction in 800 numbers used for nonprofits and state organizations. (http://www.gov.state.nm.us/perfreview/Ch1.pdf).
The University of Nebraska's Public Policy Center estimates that a fully realized 2-1-1 system in Nebraska will bring $7.4 million in benefits to the state of Nebraska with a population of 1.7 million (www.211.org/online2/docs/211_reportbody.pdf).