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Recent Advocacy Efforts on Language Access Issues

From Dec. 2000 Welfare News

The following are examples of how grassroots activists and advocates have worked to assure meaningful access to public benefits and related services for individuals with Limited English Proficiency:

New York

In response to a complaint filed by Make the Road By Walking, a New York City low-income group, in October 1999 HHS’s OCR found New York City welfare agencies in violation of Title VI and ordered them to take specific steps to provide services to LEP individuals. WLC was one of the endorsers of the complaint.

Make The Road By Walking has engaged in a campaign to document individual complaints of abusive treatment by welfare agency workers (including failure to provide language appropriate services) and has issued a report documenting its findings. See http://www.maketheroad.org.

A pending federal court case, Ramirez v. Giuliani, filed on behalf of Food Stamp applicants and recipients challenges the failure of New York City and state to provide oral and written translation services as a violation of the Food Stamp statute, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, New York state law, equal protection and due process. Plaintiffs are represented by New York Legal Assistance Group and others.

California

Following a complaint by the Contra Costa Legal Services Foundation, in May 1999 HHS’s OCR entered into a Resolution Agreement with the Contra Costa County Department of Social Services in which the agency agreed to take specific steps to provide language appropriate services to LEP individuals who speak Southeast Asian languages.

A complaint filed with HHS’s OCR by the Western Center on Law and Poverty and other groups in December 1999 challenges the failure of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Services to provide language appropriate services in the CalWORKS program.

Florida

In May 2000 Florida Legal Services and the Florida Immigration Coalition filed a complaint with HHS’s OCR alleging that the state’s WAGES program which delivers cash assistance, Medicaid, and employment-related services fails to provide language appropriate services to LEP individuals.

Minnesota

According to news reports and information from the Brennan Center, a court settlement recently reached by Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance and the state welfare agency provides for translators for LEP individuals and for translation of certain forms, including applications, into at least seven languages.

Texas

A pending federal lawsuit, Guevara v. Bost, challenges the state welfare agency’s failure to provide bilingual services to Food Stamp applicants as required by federal Food Stamp law. Plaintiffs are represented by Gulf Coast Legal Foundation and others.

Ohio

A pending federal court case, Rodriquez v. Steger, filed as a class action on behalf of low-income LEP persons whose primary language is Spanish, claims

that the Lucas County and the Ohio Department of Family and Job Services violate the federal statutory and regulatory rights of plaintiffs to participate in the Food Stamp program by failing to provide applications, notices, and correspondence in Spanish or to provide an interpreter when needed. Plaintiffs are represented by Advocates for Basic Legal Equality.