Weinberg Touts Benefits Of State’s 2-1-1 Information Hotline

Senator Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, listens to testimony in a meeting of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) today said concerns over the H1N1 flu virus illustrate the importance of New Jersey’s 2-1-1 helpline, a non-emergency telephone number available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help residents who call in with all types of questions about government services.

“As we read and hear more about the so-called ‘swine flu,’ it’s reassuring to know there is already in place a system for providing people with the information they need and connections to other sources of help,” Sen. Weinberg said. “In addition to straightforward health questions about the flu, people have concerns over home healthcare for elderly family members, school closings and day care needs and transportation requirements for those who may need help getting to see their doctor.”

The 2-1-1 was started as a pilot program in Hunterdon County in 2002 and is now available everywhere in the state by dialing 2-1-1 from any landline or cell phone. This easy-to-remember number is operational 24/7 and helps make critical connections between callers looking for help and the various human services agencies that can provide it. The system helps with everything from shelters for homeless people to applications for food stamps to temporary rent assistance. They also provide information on emergency preparedness and disaster services available to the public.

“Callers to the 2-1-1 helpline can get help and flu prevention tips directly from trained phone specialists, as well as information about local resources that are available,” Sen. Weinberg said. “Those who have more detailed questions that require greater expertise can be transferred to the appropriate state agency for further assistance. I would hope in these tough economic times, that our state department heads would look to 2-1-1 to get information to the public because their service is ready and available and it will alleviate the state’s expense of setting up and staffing separate 800 number hotlines.”

New Jersey’s 2-1-1 is universally respected and is becoming a national model. Today there are over 190 million Americans in 45 states who have access to community resources by dialing 2-1-1. New Jerseyans can also access information at www.nj211.org.

The system is managed by the NJ211 Partnership, a subsidiary of the United Ways of New Jersey, which, in 2002, was designated by the Board of Public Utilities as sole administrator. It also provides an effect management tool for the state; the system generates real time data on requests, complaints, and services. Over time, 2-1-1 data will improve the quality of programs and services by making it possible to harvest essential information on resource allocation and use it for policy decision-making and budgeting.

“The 2-1-1 system is a good program that is working efficiently and effectively to provide valuable information for our residents on a whole host of issues,” Sen. Weinberg said. “It’s always available and as easy to reach as picking up the phone and dialing three numbers. If you don’t immediately get the help you need, they’ll help you contact the appropriate agency or service for your particular need. It’s a real New Jersey success story.”