Time to expand United Way help plan
By Deborah Bayle
and Craig Wagstaff
Legislation introduced by state Sen. Todd Weiler would provide $550,000 to establish a public-private partnership with United Way and its United Way 2-1-1, a number that connects thousands of Utahns every year with vital health and human services.
The state appropriation, sought in Weiler's SB56, would supplement United Way's more than $1 million commitment to the program.
Currently, with coverage in all 50 states, more than 246 million Americans can seek help by dialing 2-1-1. In Utah, United Way 2-1-1 connects people who are facing life-challenging obstacles to the appropriate service provider.
Information specialists direct people to services such as utilities and housing assistance, food pantries, low-cost health clinics and dentistry, affordable mental health services and family counseling.
Those who have lost their jobs, are uninsured or face foreclosure on their homes can also turn to United Way 2-1-1 for immediate help. For thousands of Utahns, it may be their last hope.
On National 2-1-1 Day, Feb. 11, SB56 was unanimously passed on the second reading by the Senate. It was heard Friday by the Appropriations Committee, which has placed the bill on a priority list to be heard again. The bill will now go to in Senate for third reading early next week. If passed, it will go to the House.
SB56 will allow United Way 2-1-1 to create and maintain a cohesive system to better address the needs of Utahns.
A public-private partnership will ensure this free, statewide service can provide quality, up-to-date information to thousands of Utahns seeking information, as well as to those seeking opportunities to volunteer.
We strongly encourage our Legislature to become a key partner and make an investment in 2-1-1 to develop a stronger state system.
The 2-1-1 movement was prompted by a need to reduce confusion about who to call for human-services help, and to promote efficiency and coordination among service providers.
In this age of vast information, finding the right resource at the right time has become more challenging than ever. The program saves time and frustration by eliminating the need for callers to navigate a maze of agencies and help-lines.
One young mother recently dialed 2-1-1 looking for a way to provide food for her daughter. The mother said that, thankfully, her daughter received free school lunch, but weekends were always a time when the two of them went hungry.
A United Way 2-1-1 information specialist was able to connect her to a food pantry, plus provided additional information about utilities and prescription assistance. The young mother was also given referrals to a nonprofit agency that assists women in advancing their job skills.
United Way 2-1-1 received 105,123 calls in 2012, made 164,761 referrals, and re-launched 211ut.org with new tools, allowing users to more easily access the nearly 3,300 resources online.
With the services provided by 2-1-1, there is no longer a wrong number for anyone seeking to find or give help.
Deborah Bayle is president and CEO of United Way of Salt Lake. Craig Wagstaff is executive vice president and CEO of Questar Gas Co., a member United Way of Salt Lake's board of directors, and chair of the United Way 2-1-1 Steering Council.
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