How 211 Can Help with Your Finances

The free service can connect you to a variety of options for help

When financial difficulties arise, help may be just a phone call away. However, rather than dialing 911, as you would in an emergency, you can call 211 to access services in your local community.

In 2000, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated 211 as a three-digit number for referrals to social services and other forms of assistance. By calling this number, individuals can get connected with a variety of options for help, including federal, state, and local programs that offer financial assistance.

Key Takeaways

  • 211 is a federally designated number for finding social service referrals and other forms of assistance.
  • The 211 program covers all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
  • 211 services are designed to help families with children, people with disabilities, older Americans, youth, and anyone else needing access to financial or social services assistance.
  • Dialing 211 can allow you to connect with service providers and resources in your local area.

What Is 211?

The 211 network represents a collection of agencies that work together to help make it easier for people in need to find resources and assistance. Callers who dial 211 can be referred to or connected with local agencies that can provide help. This free service is available to approximately 94.6% percent of the U.S. population covering all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The 211 service is designed to help a wide range of individuals, including those who are:

  • Elderly
  • Disabled
  • Experiencing a personal crisis
  • Not fluent in English
  • New to their community
  • Illiterate or have limited reading skills

For example, 211 can provide help to veterans, individuals struggling with mental illnesses or special needs, people experiencing domestic violence, individuals who have experienced a natural disaster, and ex-offenders who need help with reentry into society after being incarcerated. The program is supported by a variety of nonprofit organizations, including Goodwill and United Way. It’s estimated that 211 responds to as many as 20 million requests for help each year.

There are no qualification requirements to use 211; anyone in need can dial the number to find out which resources might be available.

211 Financial Assistance

The 211 network operates by offering referrals for different types of assistance, both financial and nonfinancial. If you need help paying bills, buying food, or have another financial issue with which you’re struggling, 211 may be able to connect you with appropriate financial assistance organizations or programs. That includes making referrals for people who need help with:

  • Making rent or mortgage payments
  • Paying utilities (including electric bills, gas bills, propane bills, and water bills)
  • Applying for Medicaid or Medicare assistance
  • Getting health insurance
  • Covering childcare expenses
  • Paying for medical care or prescription drugs
  • Purchasing food
  • Getting gas money or bus fare
  • Homelessness prevention
  • Paying burial and cremation expenses
  • Job training or transportation assistance to get to work
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applications

For example, say you need help paying your electric bill because you’ve been laid off from your job. If you call 211, they may refer you to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which is a federal program that provides funding to local agencies to help with home energy bills, energy crises, weatherization, and minor energy-related home repairs.

Say you’re struggling to buy enough food for your household, something that an estimated 20 million Americans experience. The 211 connection may be able to refer you to your local social services department so that you can apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or provide you with a list of food pantries or food banks in your area. You can also get assistance with applying for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which offers supplemental food assistance.

Dialing 211 could also help you connect with a nonprofit debt counselor if you’re having trouble with credit cards or loans. A nonprofit credit counselor can review your financial situation, including your budget, spending habits, and debts, to help you come up with a realistic solution for managing it. You can also get referrals for debt counseling through 211 if you’re struggling to make mortgage payments and are in danger of falling into foreclosure.

The 211 network doesn’t offer help directly. Instead, it acts as a shortcut for people who need financial assistance but don’t know how to access it.

Other Types of Help Offered by 211

The 211 network encompasses a broad range of organizations, including those that offer referrals for financial assistance. Beyond that, you can also call 211 if you need access to:

  • Mental health resources
  • Drug and alcohol abuse rehabilitation programs
  • Elderly care support
  • Child, youth, or family support
  • Suicide prevention services
  • Work assistance services

How to Get Help from 211

If you need financial assistance, you can start by dialing 211. Your call is then routed to a local or regional calling center. A 211 center referral specialist will ask what kind of help you need, then either refer you to or connect you with an appropriate agency or organization that can help.

You can also look for help online. Just enter your ZIP code on the 211 website to see which resources may be available near you.

Once you’ve been referred, you may need to take additional steps to get help. For example, if you’re trying to qualify for SNAP benefits, you’ll need to complete an application with your local social services department. If you’re working with a debt counselor, they may schedule an interview by phone to discuss your debt and financial situation.

Keep in mind that getting a referral from 211 doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll qualify for benefits. Many social services programs base qualification on income, household size, and/or financial assets. If you’re not eligible for help because you earn too much money or have too many assets, 211 suggests calling back to discuss what other options might be available.

What is 211?

211 is a service that provides referrals to a network of organizations for financial assistance and social services programs free of charge. The 211 network covers all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

What kind of financial help does 211 offer?

While 211 does not offer financial assistance directly, the service can connect you with organizations or agencies that do. Some of the situations for which 211 may be able to offer referrals include rent and mortgage assistance, utility assistance, food assistance, transportation assistance, and homelessness prevention.

How do I get help from 211?

You can simply dial the number from a mobile phone or landline. Your call is routed to a local or regional calling center. A referral specialist will ask you questions about what type of help you need, then attempt to match you with an appropriate agency or organization in your area.

Is my personal information safe?

211 is a confidential service. You don’t have to disclose information about yourself or your family if you would prefer not to do so. The 211 call center specialists can still provide referrals even if you choose to make calls anonymously.

Article Sources
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  2. Federal Communications Commission. “Dial 211 for Essential Community Services.”

  3. United Way. “211.”

  4. “Help Paying Bills.”

  5. United Way 211. “Financial Assistance Programs.”

  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. “Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).”

  7. Center on Budget Policy and Priorities. “Tracking the COVID-19 Economy’s Effects on Food, Housing, and Employment Hardships.”

  8. “Find Help Near You.”

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