Lawmakers gave first-round approval April 11 to a bill that would provide grant funding to a statewide health and human services referral program.

Currently, the Telecommunications Relay System Act levies a surcharge on telephone lines in Nebraska to provide specialized equipment for qualified deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired individuals.

LB641, introduced by Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell, would allocate a portion of that surcharge to provide a $300,000 annual grant to the 211 Information and Referral Network.

The network is a free hotline that connects Nebraskans with non-emergency health and human services, McDonnell said, and currently is administered by United Way of the Midlands.

Much of the funding for 211 comes from charitable donations in Omaha, where United Way of the Midlands is located, he said.

“Right now, 211 is vulnerable to downturns in Omaha’s economy and changes in the philanthropic community,” McDonnell said. “LB641 helps to ensure that 211 will continue to be available throughout the entire state 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

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