211 Call Centers Could Expand with Proposed Funding

By: Melissa Wollering Email
By: Melissa Wollering Email

Help is just a call away, but sometimes the number isn't 911. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin says 211 service across the state could benefit if Wisconsin is willing to match $12 million in proposed federal funding.

For nearly ten years, United Way of Dane County has run the 211 in the greater Madison area. It has been the gateway to food pantries, shelters, health and social services, but its money has been limited.

"No funding came along with that unlike 9-1-1, which gets funding through everyone's phone bills," says Deedra Atkinson of United Way.

Last year in Dane County, the call center recieved mroe than 7,200 calls from people looking for help. Now Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and others want to provide more money so 211 programs across the country can increase the amount of calls processed and expand to outlying areas that are underserved.

"We're slowly implementing this across the country but many people still don't have access to 211 services," says Baldwin.

Recently proposed federal legislation could provide Wisconsin with $12 million to expand the program, as long as states match the amount. Right now, twelve call centers serve all 72 counties in Wisconsin, but outlying counties do not have the same resources as big cities.

"We have the most amount of resources in certain key areas such as Dane County, such as Milwaukee, Eau Claire, La Crosse and others," says Atkinson.

If funding comes through, United Way says call centers could expand to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week instead of referring calls to Waukesha. The group could also beef up its databases of resources to provide more contacts for smaller communties.

"It is incredibly important that people not have to wait on the phone to speak to somebody," says Atkinson. "They can get help as quickly as they need it."

211 is accessible from all land lines, but not all cell phones. United Way wants to change that as well if they get more money. Cell phone users can dial 246-help or 4357 to access the service. Tammy Baldwin says nearly 100 legislators have signed on as co-sponsors, so there is support from both parties in Congress for this bill.

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