Today, the United Way (UW) Navigation Center, formerly called the UW 2-1-1 Helpline, released its 2011 Community Needs and Trends (CNT) Report. Using demographic information, feedback from callers and data compiled from 10 counties in the Greater Austin area, the report is developed each year to support planning for future health and human services. With the information the CNT Report provides, Texas legislators, city planners and community stakeholders are better equipped to meet the needs of our community.
The UW Navigation Center is a free information and referral phone line that connects callers with services in their community that can improve their overall quality of life. Through a partnership with Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s (HHSC) 2-1-1 Texas program, the Navigation Center has access to more than 5,000 services and 1,800 agencies in a database that is updated daily. Additionally, through a partnership with Central Health, the center makes appointments for callers with the Medical Access Program (MAP), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and other health care and public insurance programs.
“The United Way Navigation Center is a vital yet easy-to-use tool that connects the community to services in an efficient and effective manner,” said Kay Euresti Garza, Vice President of the UW Navigation Center. “When a recently laid off single mother of three calls seeking help to pay for last month’s utilities, our call specialist will spend the time needed navigating through her situation until they’re able to connect her to the appropriate resources, resources the caller may have never known about had she not called 2-1-1.”
As reported in the CNT Report, the UW Navigation Center answered 376,310 calls in 2011 – a 15 percent increase from 2010. Of those calls, 37 percent were for basic needs information, including topics like food, housing and utilities. Additionally, the report stated that callers’ food needs increased almost nine percent with food stamp applications increasing one-fifth since 2010.
The UW Navigation Center also connects callers to free tax preparation services, helping prevent callers from overpaying in taxes and avoiding predatory lending agencies. The report, which is being released one day prior to National 2-1-1 Day, maintains that for the 2010 tax season, the Navigation Center referred over 10,000 calls from December 2010 to May 2011. With its help, community tax centers filed 16,927 tax returns, saving clients $29,099,490 in refunds and $11,309,610 in Earned Income Tax Credits.
“Filing taxes can be a painful process for anyone, especially those who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Debbie Bresette, President of UWCA. “But when our call specialists can connect individuals and families to a community tax center, it can make a real difference in the clients’ lives. Identifying that you qualify for an Earned Income Tax Credit, which can be up to an average of $2,100 for a family of four, can give a person hope and a sense of control over their finances they may not have felt for a very long time.”
In addition to its regular calls, the Navigation Center also acts as a disaster response center. When Texas had six of the 10 largest wildfires in its history in 2011, the call center ramped up its typical staff to connect callers with information about evacuations, shelters, supplies, FEMA registration, counseling, donations and volunteer opportunities. During the first week after Labor Day, the center fielded more than 300 calls related to the fires.
“A woman, whose house was a total loss from the wildfires, called asking for assistance with hearing aids,” said Derek Woodard, a call specialist at the UW Navigation Center. “Not only were we able to find her an agency that provided hearing aids, but we also gave her a number to register with FEMA case management and a counseling referral for wildfire victims.”