Sign me up for updates. Sign up now

Donate Take Action
In The News

D.C. 211 Receives a $9 Million Grant to Expand Social Services Helpline for Families in Need

D.C. 211 Receives a $9 Million Grant to Expand Social Services Helpline for Families in Need
Washington City Paper
Mar. 27, 2024

A $9 million grant from the Doris Duke Foundation will help D.C.’s 211 “warmline” reach more people throughout the District. The social services helpline is a vital resource for those in crisis.

In the simplest terms, 211 is an information and referral helpline for health and human services, food assistance, and housing assistance. Residents can call 24/7, 365 days a year. The line is nationally designated, similar to 911, and is supported by United Way Worldwide, an international nonprofit organization aimed at strengthening communities. 

The D.C. 211 helpline, officially known as 211 Answers, Please!, received 12,161 requests for help in 2023, according to data provided by

With a call or text to 211 Answers, Please!, D.C. residents will be connected with a specialist who will listen to their situation and refer them to the appropriate social services agency.

The Doris Duke Foundation grant specifically aims to expand access for families referred to the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency that are “screened out,” of the system, meaning they were not placed under investigation for neglect or child abuse. Data from CFSA show that 74 percent of cases in 2023 were screened out, leaving needy families in limbo. 

But with this new grant funding, 211 Answers, Please! will have more specialists trained to act as a resource to connect those families to necessary social services so that their situations do not devolve. Even with the extra grant support for the helpline, CFSA Director Robert Matthews has questioned whether the city will have the funding to provide those services.

“As we elevate concerns and the needs of families, will the District be able to respond in kind, in terms of ensuring that we can resource those supports so that families will have what they need?” he said in the Washington Post.

In general, someone calling 211 Answers, Please! can receive access to information about the following resources: food assistance, health care and insurance assistance, housing and utilities payment assistance, employment services, veteran services, child care and family services, and mental health and substance abuse disorder support.

Heather Black, vice president of 211 system strategy at United Way Worldwide, says it’s important that callers understand what 211 actually does in order to reap the most benefits from the service. 

“I think people need to understand that 211 is an information and referral service, and our job is to help them navigate and identify the best resources to meet their needs,” Black says. “But we are not typically going to be the one to solve their actual problem of providing that resource.” 

But the success of 211 helplines across the country are limited by their budgetary constraints. In order to train specialists and increase their capacity for following up with families, 211 helplines need to be sufficiently funded. 

Seeking out funding sources has been a challenge for helplines across the country.

Black says that one of the challenges for the 211 system is that it does not receive any consistent or ongoing federal funding. That means that helplines are funded through a combination of three grant sources: money that comes directly from United Way network (which funds approximately 50 percent of 211 centers across the country); money from state and local governments; and money from grant organizations such as the Doris Duke Foundation. 

“What I think is really important for people to understand is we then need to make sure 211 has the right capacity,” Black says. “Folks, in many ways, do view 211 as a utility that doesn’t need to be funded.” 

But some members of Congress are working to change that. The bipartisan Human-Services Emergency Logistic Program (HELP) Act would provide financial support for both 211 and 988 helplines. The bill would allow for 211 helplines across the country to have access to similar funding, thereby expanding and standardizing the kinds of support these helplines can provide.