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The Lancaster County United Way is part of a national push to secure emergency funding for the 211 referral service, and it's asking its partner nonprofits to join it.

It's inviting them to sign an online letter petitioning Congress for $150 million in the next Covid-19 relief bill to build up capacity in the 211 system. The letter can be found here.

Calls to 211 have increased dramatically here and nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic. Call volume to Pennsylvania 211 East, which serves Lancaster County, jumped 50% in the early days of the state's stay-at-home order, while nationally the 211 network is answering more than 75,000 calls daily, up from a normal average of around 35,000.

"It is urgent that nonprofits tell the House and Senate to include nonprofit policy solutions such as emergency funding programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and strengthened charitable giving incentives" in its legislation, Amanda McNaughton, member services coordinator of the United Way of Pennsylvania, said in an email.

"An important part of our national conversation around emergency services needs to be 211," said Kevin Ressler, president of the United Way of Lancaster County.

The 211 number connects callers with trained personnel who direct them to appropriate health and social services. There are about 200 local 211 services that together reach 96% of the U.S. population.

Among other things, 211 services help limit calls to 911. Calls to latter number should be for emergencies that require an immediate response from police, fire or emergency medical personnel.

"211 is the solution when 911 can't help," Ressler said.

Tim Stuhldreher