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Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Language Access
Type: Media Coverage

English Only at Many Benefits Offices, Study Finds

Updated, Dec. 13 | A coalition of nonprofit groups
released a report on Wednesday concluding that immigrants face severe language
barriers at benefits offices where residents must go to apply for food stamps,
Medicaid and public assistance. The survey examined all 69 offices run by the
city’s Human Resources Administration and concluded that "vulnerable New
Yorkers are unable to enroll their families in important subsistence programs
when they face difficult times."

In 2003, the City Council passed a law requiring
that the Human Resources Administration provide translation services, but the
new report concludes that city money is wasted because workers at many of the
69 offices were unaware of the language requirements.

Amy Taylor, who researches issues facing people
with limited English proficiency (L.E.P.) for Legal Services for New York City, which
prepared the report, said in a statement:

    The data
in our report reveals that the problems our L.E.P. clients face in accessing
their benefits are a systemic issue. Civil rights laws mandate the provision of
language services for limited English proficient New Yorkers and when the law
is not followed, poor New Yorkers are unable to access the benefits they need
to survive. H.R.A. has already made a significant investment of taxpayer
dollars in translation and interpretation services but this money is wasted
when front-line workers are not aware of the policies or how to access the

Among the important findings of the report:

    * 66
percent of the Human Resources Administration offices (46 of 69) did not
provide translated applications in the six most commonly spoken languages in New York City, even
though the agency’s central office had already prepared translations of those

    * 15
percent of the offices (10 of 69) did not provide any translated applications
at all;

    * 18
percent of the offices (13 of 69) did not even have applications in Spanish,
which is spoken by nearly 2 million New Yorkers;

    * Fewer
than two-thirds of the offices (44 of 69) offices surveyed said an interpreter
or bilingual worker would be available as mandated by federal, state and local
laws and regulations;

    * 26
percent of the offices (18 of 69) told the researchers taking part in the
report that a limited English proficient individual would have to come back or
wait for an interpreter or bilingual worker.

Along with Legal Services for New York City, the study was prepared by Make the Road New York, the
New York Immigration Coalition, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and
the New York Legal Assistance Group.

The Human Resources Administration issued the
following statement on Wednesday, in response to the report:

           It is of
great concern to us that these observations were made in June 2007, but have
been withheld for the purpose of releasing a report, rather than working with
the Agency to improve services to our clients if needed. The report was finally
given to H.R.A. yesterday afternoon and it still did not contain the specific
results from the centers that were surveyed. We are eager to review the
specific findings in order to ascertain whether they are accurate. Making our
programs accessible to people with limited English proficiency is a priority of
this administration.