"It made it nonnegotiable," Michal said.
It will be staffed out of Whippany, N.J., by the same nonprofit that runs the New Jersey 211 service, which receives about 300,000 calls a year, and got 90,000 in the six weeks post-Sandy. It will be open to receive calls from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., though officials hope additional funding will lead to a 24-hour service, like New Jersey's.
"This is not solely for folks with limited financial capability," Michal said in a news conference at the United Way's Benjamin Franklin Parkway headquarters. "It's for anyone trying to navigate a complex system."
Pennsylvania has lagged behind most of the country in adopting the 211 system, which now serves more than 90.6 percent of the nation's population in all or parts of all 50 states, according to the national 211 website.
As examples of those who might use such a service, Michal and United Way senior vice president Ann O'Brien Schmieg cited: a mother looking for child care, an older person looking for caregiver help or help with caregiving, people in financial crises who need help with utilities and housing, or a single mother looking for a mentor for her teenage child
"People need help every day," Michal said. "People go without services not because there's no one to help them, but because they don't know where to find them."
Rosetta Lue, who heads Philadelphia's 311 municipal services hotline, said that many of that line's 1.5 million annual calls come from people in need of social services, not city services such as pothole repair.
The new service will let 311 operators in City Hall transfer calls directly to the 211 center and its 11 new workers trained specifically for Pennsylvania calls.
Lue praised the hotline system and said, "Just the one person you make a difference to down the road, you will see how wonderful this system is."
Some cities, including New York and Chicago, have run 311 and 211 systems jointly to mixed results, said Wendy David, of the United Way. At a cost of $850,000 annually, officials here instead decided to join up with the existing 211 service in Jersey.
Nonprofits that wish to be part of the database of referrals can either call the hotline or register online at http://211sepa.org.
Laura Zink Marx, director of NJ 211 Partnership, said call data give social service and government agencies information about what services are needed, and where. The most common calls are for utility and housing help, she said. About 75 percent of callers are female.
"Most people call anonymously and call back again and again," Marx said. If they chose to identify themselves, a file will be created and there can be follow up done by the case workers, she said.
Contact Amy S. Rosenberg at 215-854-2681 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on twitter @amysrosenberg.