Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Give your support to 2-1-1 and make it easier for people in need to find help in a crisis

Every day, millions of people in the United States are in need of food banks, community pantries and soup kitchens. They are an important source of nutritional food for many low-income individuals and families and serve as a lifeline in a time of crisis.

But faced with the web of government agencies and countless help lines, people often don't know where to turn. That's where "2-1-1" comes in. Now in 41 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, 2-1-1 is a three-digit phone dialing system similar to 4-1-1 or 9-1-1. But in this case, dialing the number connects people who are seeking services to community-based organizations and government agencies that can help, whether it is during a family crisis or influenza outbreak.

2-1-1 was created and launched by United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta in 1997 and has grown to serve over 196 million Americans -- more than 65 percent of the U.S. population.

The system has already paid off: In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Texas and Alabama called 2-1-1 looking for help with shelter, transportation, medical, food and water, construction materials and mental health. Because of its success, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has recognized the 2-1-1 system and has recommended expanding its reach nationwide. Under a bill currently before Congress, that could soon be come a reality.

The Calling for 2-1-1 Act, led by Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., and Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif, and Fred Upton, R-Mich., would authorize funding to expand 2-1-1 systems across the United States. States would develop plans for implementing and administering the 2-1-1 funds, including training, public education campaigns and coordination of non-profit community services.

Now it's your turn to help make nationwide 2-1-1 a reality, and all it takes is a few clicks of your mouse. Visit the APHA advocacy page and send a message to your members of Congress in support of the Calling for 2-1-1 Act. That way, by the time the next disaster or family crisis rolls around, we will all have the benefit of 2-1-1 to give us a helping hand.

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