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County Commission decision will bring end to 211 for Sarasota County residents

The commission's Sept. 11 decision will eliminate a service that hundreds of thousands of Sarasota residents have come to rely on for more than 40 years.

  • By
  • | 11:08 a.m. March 12, 2024
  • Sarasota
  • Neighbors
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Every word in the conversation dripped with concern.

The 92-year-old caller reached out to United Way Suncoast after learning Sarasota County residents will no longer have access to 211 after April 1. She shared she had never sought social services until her husband died recently. They made do with their Social Security checks but after his death, she needed added support.

A call to 211 led her to acquire a free mobile phone and eliminate a monthly bill of $89. She asked several times, "Who will I call if I need more help?"

She's not alone in asking that question, because the Sarasota County Commission has chosen to defund 211 and deny its residents a lifeline to critical services.

United Way Suncoast, our 211 partners - Glasser/Schoenbaum Society and Heart of Florida United Way - and an array of nonprofits and foundations have joined us in asking the commission to restore the funding.

The commission's Sept. 11 decision will eliminate a service that hundreds of thousands of Sarasota residents have come to rely on for more than 40 years.

In fiscal year 2023 (October 1, 2022, through September 30, 2023), 211's trained call specialists answered 11,863 calls and responded to an additional 4,685 electronic communications (chat/text/email). Callers received 18,828 referrals, providing a pipeline for community members and the local organizations that provide more than 1,900 services. This loss will be as crippling for nonprofits as it will be for community residents.

Local foundations and donors also have concerns. Because of the commission's decision, their community investments to support an array of nonprofits will be disrupted because the system that efficiently connected to community resources will cease to exist.

211 will direct Sarasota County residents to the county's 311 line, but 311 is different from 211. It doesn't have the curated system of nonprofits to effectively make referrals, and it's only staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. There will no longer be a line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We all know that a crisis can occur at any time of day or night.

Since the commission eliminated funding, United Way Suncoast officials have met with four county commissioners and the county administrator to explain why 211 should remain a public-private partnership. We've also detailed the vital role it plays in the wake of disasters. After Hurricane Ian in 2022 and Idalia in 2023, 211 specialists fielded 2,287 calls from Sarasota residents seeking food and shelter.

We're asking the board to craft a more positive funding solution, not for our organizations but for all the people who have come to rely on the vital services provided by 211. If you believe in 211, please contact your Sarasota County Commissioners today.

Michael Moran - [email protected]
Mark Smith - [email protected]
Neil Rainford - [email protected]
Joe Neunder - [email protected]
Ron Cutsinger - [email protected]

Jessica Muroff serves as CEO of United Way Suncoast, a nonprofit that serves five counties (Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto, Hillsborough, Pinellas) by elevating early learning and education and empowering families through financial stability.

United Way Suncoast
Tampa Bay Area Office
4925 Independence Parkway, Suite 120
Tampa, FL 33634
(813) 274-0900

Lakewood Ranch Area Office
4215 Concept Court
Lakewood Ranch, FL 34236
Ph. (941) 748-1313