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Need help with food, utilities and tax prep? 2-1-1 is only a call away

Quinton Askew President, 211 Maryland | 3/19/2021, 6 a.m.
There are so many challenges facing Baltimore residents right now— questions about COVID-19 testing sites and vaccine distribution, how they ...
Need help with food, utilities and tax prep? 2-1-1 is only a call away Courtesy Photo

There are so many challenges facing Baltimore residents right now— questions about COVID-19 testing sites and vaccine distribution, how they can access housing and utility assistance, where can they turn to get their tax questions answered and some may be struggling with depression, substance misuse and thoughts of suicide.

There is a statewide nonprofit that can help connect Marylanders to critical health and human services in their area as well as resource and crisis specialists who can lend a listening ear and real- time help...it’s 211 Maryland. The organization’s professionally trained resource specialists link Marylanders to food, housing, utility assistance and other essential services 24/7/365 to help people navigate the sometimes- confusing maze of assistance program websites and phone numbers. Last year, Baltimore City residents called on 211 Maryland for access to food pantries, utility assistance, tax preparation help, COVID-19-related information, and more.

Food Pantries— The pandemic year of 2020 proved to be one of the most financially difficult years with many Baltimore City residents experiencing unemployment, and food access became a top concern. More than 19,500 Baltimore City residents called 211 Maryland to connect to emergency food assistance, like St. Veronica’s Food Bank, the Salvation Army of Central Maryland, Paul’s Place and more.

Utility Assistance— If you need help paying your utility bills, energy assistance is available to help income- eligible residents pay their utility bills, and avoid termination notices. More than 100,000 Maryland households benefit from energy assistance from the Maryland Office of Home Energy Programs (OHEP) each year. Getting energy assistance will not reduce other public assistance that you might receive, including (but not limited) to food stamps or Social Security benefits, and the utility assistance does not have to be paid back. 211 Maryland call center specialists will explain how to apply, the verification documents you’ll need to have on hand and best practices for applying.

Tax Preparation— With tax season upon us, there are lots of bad actors, or fraudulent tax preparation services, that prey on older adults during this time of year, so it’s critical for Marylanders to identify credible tax prep services. A trustworthy place to start is by calling 2- 1-1 to be referred to free (and credible) tax preparation programs, like VITA, AARP or MyFreeTaxes.com, which is powered by the United Way.In the past two years, more than 7,400 Baltimore City residents turned to 211 Maryland to help them identify free and trustworthy tax preparation programs that can help them navigate the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax system. This number is expected to rise in 2021 as more people have questions about the Maryland Relief Act of 2021 and missing stimulant checks.

COVID-19 Related Info— 211 Maryland partners with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to keep an open line of communication about the latest testing and vaccine availability in the state. Through 211 Maryland’s texting platform, you can text MDReady to 898-211 to opt- in to the latest COVID-19 updates.

Mental Health and Substance Misuse— Along with all of the pressures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in needs related to mental health and substance misuse throughout Maryland and in Baltimore City. 211 Maryland offers confidential crisis response for substance abuse, mental health, and suicide emergencies by calling 2-1-1, Press 1. A live person is at the other end of the phone to listen and help. For ongoing supportive messaging, anyone can text MDMindHealth or MDSaludMental to 898-211 and subscribe. The list of resources and information available to Marylanders is endless through 211 Maryland – dial 2-1-1 – or access its suicide prevention and substance misuse hotline by dialing 2-1-1, Press 1 and visit its website at www.211md.org.