Thursday, February 11, 2010

PUC Clears Way For 211

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has handed over operation of the phone number “211” statewide to the nonprofit group PA211. The approval comes on the symbolic date, 2/11. Pennsylvania is one of three states that does not offer 211 service. In other states a call to 211 links people to social and community services as well as volunteer opportunities. Nancy Kukovich chairs the PA 211 board and is also the CEO of the Westmorland County United Way. She says the group built a business plan to operate 211 in 2007 and has been working to make it a reality ever since. She says the business model calls for the state to be divided into 7 regions with a coordinating office in Harrisburg. To fund the operation, Kukovich says it would take about 60-cents per Pennsylvanian per year. In other states the 211 centers are funded with a mix of state, municipal, foundation and private dollars. “One thing we will not do is add a fee to phone bills. Phone companies have told us they are willing to help but they will not support another charge tacked on,” says Kukovich. Kukovich says they are moving forward despite not having support from the state legislature. She says, “We could not wait 5 years for [state funding.]” Kukovich says the funds will come from grants, United Ways throughout the state and fundraising efforts. The goal is to have the first of the regions up and running in a few months and all seven regions on line by 2/11 2011. Along with trying to scrape together the needed funding, PA211 is also working to build the database needed to make the system work. Kukovich says some counties have very complete directories of social service providers and community organizations but others are in disarray. Once the database is built callers from any part of the state can be plugged into services anywhere in Pennsylvania. Kukovich says, “A son or daughter living in Philadelphia worried about an elderly parent here in Greensburg can call 211 out there and then 211 in Philadelphia will be able to access to the database we have here in Greensburg.” A needs assessment conducted by the Westmorland County United Way found that most people have to make six or seven calls to get the services they need. The goal is allow the same person to call 211 and get the correct number right away.

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