ALBANY — Most New Yorkers can pick up a phone and dial one number to find out what services or assistance they're eligible for — regardless of their needs.
But a 92% cut in state funding for the 211 hot line could drastically limit its ability to help connect New Yorkers with the services they need and halt a planned expansion across the state.
"Everyone at one time or another in their life has needed help — and that's why I like this program," the president of the United Way New York State, Susan Hager, said.
The 211 hot line connects people with information about what government agencies or nonprofit groups can help them with their specific needs.
"In New York we're very fortunate, we have a very rich array of services that are provided both by the government and the not-for-profit sector," Ms. Hager said. "However finding the right service can be a very daunting task as people make phone call after phone call."
Each call center is part of a regional collaboration of stakeholders including United Ways, members of New York State Alliance of Information and Referral Systems, local governments, service providers, and others.
In the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the 211 program received $6.3 million in state funding. But the state only allotted $500,000 for the current fiscal year.
"It was very shocking to see the state walk away from that commitment," Ms. Hager said.
No other state has made cuts to the 211 program anywhere near the levels New York has, a United Way spokeswoman, Sally Fabens, said.
"Funding for the 211 program was eliminated in the executive budget," Mark Hansen, a spokesman for Senate majority leader, Dean Skelos, said. "Given that the 211 program had unspent funds available, and in light of the limited resources available for budget restorations, the Legislature restored $500,000 for the program because it provides a valuable services for New Yorkers."
The 211 service is available to 74% of the country. In New York 13.4 million people have access to the call centers in Buffalo, the Finger Lakes, Westchester County, and New York City. About 360,000 people used the 211 service in 2007.
When the 211 budget was cut, plans were in the works to expand the service to the rest of the state.
Now those plans could be put on hold indefinitely and current services could be limited.
"We're not a group of people that give up easily, so we are still trying to get additional funding for this year because this service is so important for New Yorkers," Ms. Hager said.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's office provided hope that additional funds could be added.
"While the budget is complete, we are always looking at what additional needs are out there," an Assembly spokeswoman, Sisa Moyo, said.
The governor's office offered a more bleak view for 211 and other state programs.
"We're in tough fiscal times right now and we had to make many difficult choices in order to balance the budget, including reducing funding for this private organization," a spokesman for the Division of the Budget, Matt Anderson, said.