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Another Voice: State budget puts valuable 211 service at risk

By Phil Catanese
and Michael Weiner

Western New York is home to many organizations and services whose mission is to serve residents
with a wide variety of needs. At the same time, there is no shortage of people who could benefit from
these programs and services. However, connecting residents with the appropriate resource can
sometimes be a challenge. That’s why we are celebrating February 11 as 211 Day to raise
awareness of 211WNY, a free, easy-to-remember phone resource that provides a simple way to
connect residents with thousands of programs and services in WNY that can help them stay healthy
and engaged in the community.

Calling 211 connects the caller to a real person who is trained to provide referrals to over 1,900 local
WNY agencies which provide over 10,000 different services. Callers can be connected to resources
as varied as free tax preparation, legal services, child development screenings, affordable housing,
health insurance, and disaster response services. The availability of 211 also helps relieve stress on
the 911 emergency number, as it provides assistance for non-emergency issues.

This service is intended for all residents of Western New York who may be looking for some type of
assistance, not just for the most vulnerable or those in crisis. In 2017, 211WNY handled over 68,000
calls from WNY residents searching for help in our community. 211WNY also helps the homeless
stay warm and find shelter in the winter during a Code Blue and connects families to resources to
provide gifts for their family during the holiday season.

Unfortunately, 211WNY may be at risk as the New York State budget recently released by Gov. Andrew M.
Cuomo did not reinstate funding for this year. We encourage all Western New Yorkers to contact
your state legislators and request that funding for 211 be included in the state budget to ensure
access to available services continues. Loss of funding for 211 would be a loss for our community as
well as the rest of the state.

Many of the issues our community faces are not limited to zip code or income level. Challenges like
family violence, mental health and substance use are found in every neighborhood and community.
211 can help.

Personal challenges like a new baby, a health condition, disability, bereavement, military deployment
and job loss can all mean searching for help in the community. 211 can help.
Employers, teachers, first responders and HR professionals are all trying to help those they work
with. 211 can help.

As we celebrate 211 Day on February 11th, this is a good time to celebrate our community's support
of each other, and to renew our collective willingness to advance the common good. You can do your
part too. You can do your part too; tell someone you know about 211 and contact your
representative to let them know that funding should be restored for this valuable community
resource.

Phil Catanese is chairman of the Board of Directors Chairman at the Olmsted Center for Sight. Michael
Weiner os President & CEO of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County.

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