The three-digit, social-service telephone referral service offered in 67 Ohio counties could be expanding into Warren and Clinton counties.
The State of Ohio Controlling Board set aside $200,000 earlier last month to expand 2-1-1 calling services, tentatively to the two counties.
But questions remain about whether the service should be brought back to the two counties where it was canceled about five years ago.
Also complicating the proposed expansion is a similar information and referral service recently started up in Warren County.
“The general concept is very good,” said Eugene Rose, CEO and executive director of Warren County Community Services, the non-profit that started up the Information & Referral Service earlier this year in a partnership with the county government.
Rose and Aaron Reid, CEO and president of Warren County United Way, are less sure about the 2-1-1 approach, a 24-hour service that was abandoned here in 2011 due to high costs and low user numbers.
2-1-1 in Ohio
Last year, 2-1-1 call centers, staffed by trained specialists with databases of information, handled more than 1.3 million calls and close to 600,000 web visits, according to Ohio United Way.
The service provides referrals on a wide range of social-service needs and volunteer opportunities to 91 percent of Ohioans, according to the agency.
On Aug. 8, The State of Ohio Controlling Board allocated $200,000 to the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services for a no-bid contract with Ohio United Way to expand the services “into two additional counties, tentatively to be Warren and Clinton.”
The state department requested waiver of the competitive bidding on expansion of the service “designated by the Federal Communications Commission and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio as the three-digit telephone number reserved for public access to community health and human services information and referral,” according to an explanation on the state controlling board request for funding.
The state department designated Ohio United Way for the contract because a collaborative consisting of Ohio United Way and five call centers handling 2-1-1 services around the state “designated Ohio United Way as the fiscal agent for state and federal contracts related to expanding the service,” according to the controlling board document.
Last week, Nick Roman, Ohio United Way’s 2-1-1 director, said, “Warren and Clinton are among the counties under consideration.”
While Ohio United Way “would like to” expand into these two counties, the agency has just begun discussions with the United Ways in the two counties.
He said the current contract was the fourth or fifth between the state and his agency, resulting in about 25 counties adding 2-1-1 service.
The counties go through a process before taking on the service, Roman said.
“It takes a full year for anything to get off the ground,” he said.
Around the Miami Valley, 2-1-1 service is already available in Montgomery, Clark, Greene, Champaign, Butler and Preble counties. Miami, Darke, Mercer and Auglaize counties are among the 21 Ohio counties without the service.
Ultimately the counties take on operational costs, Roman said.
Local United Ways pay more than half of operating costs, according to Ohio United Way.
Under the new contract, the state department is to reimburse Ohio United Way up to $200,000, Tim Jadlot-Roe, interim president and CEO of Ohio United Way, said.
He declined to comment on who could operate or how much money would be granted for start-up costs.
“It’s too early in the process for us to comment on that part,” Jadlot-Roe said.
In preliminary discussions, Reid said $60,000 is the amount Warren County United Way would receive to restart 2-1-1 in the county.
“At that point, I guess it would be up to us,” he said, recalling the previous 2-1-1 service was discontinued after a few years in 2011 due to costs of $36 a call.
“It has to be a perfect fit for us,” he added. “Our main priority is funding the programs we currently fund.”
Clinton County United Way did not respond to inquiries.
Resuming 2-1-1 in Warren County
In February, Warren County began operating an information and referral service accessible between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays by calls to Warren County Community Services, a countywide non-profit social service organization. Callers dial 513-695-2100 in Warren County and the Cincinnati area, 937-425-2100 in areas with 937 exchanges, including Dayton, and 513-261-2100 in the Middletown area.
The service is being funded in part through $20,000 obtained by the county division of human services from the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services. The calls are handled by the receptionist at Warren County Community Services.
“It’s kind of a one-stop number for our agency,” Rose said.
Warren County Community Services offers housing, meals and other social-service assistance in the county.
Other social-service agencies also offer referral numbers, Reid said.
Rose expressed interest in winning some of the 2-1-1 expansion funds for the information and referral services and indicated it could conflict with a renewed 2-1-1 service.
While also questioning the need for a round-the-clock service, Lauren Cavanaugh, director of the county division of human services, said the funding now going to the information and referral service could be used to fund the renewed 2-1-1 service.
“There’s such a need,” she said. “We could absolutely do that.”