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Know Your Rights
Source: Make the Road New York
Subject: Immigration
Type: Pubs & Reports

Policy or Pretense?

About this Report:

The three organizations that put together this report decided to collaborate in the spring of 1999 to address serious concerns voiced by our non-English-speaking clients and members regarding the lack of translation services within the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA). For poor, immigrant communities with whom our organizations work, the lack of translation and interpretation services presents a serious obstacle to accessing the public assistance on which many families depend for survival.

HRA Policy Bulletin 99-13 identifies one HRA publication, entitled "Directory of Community Organizations with Bilingual Interpreter Staff" as the cornerstone of their interpretation policy. In response to requests regarding their policy for dealing with non-English-speaking applicants and recipients, HRA produced this policy bulletin, and a flyer targeted towards HRA staff encouraging the use of this Directory.

The following results of our contacts with 89 of the 90 community organizations listed in the Directory indicate that this policy is far from frequently employed. Given the considerable population of non-English-speaking recipients of welfare, these results beg the following questions: What happens to the large majority of non-English-speakers who attempt to apply for welfare or must engage with HRA personnel in order to maintain their benefits? How do they manage to convey vital information to HRA Center staff? How many families fall through the cracks, failing to gain access to the benefits to which they are entitled because they simply cannot make themselves understood?


Our results indicate that it is simply not possible that HRA is providing adequate translation services to the tens of thousands of people who need them to access benefits. The "Directory of Community Organizations with Bilingual Interpreter Staff" is dramatically under-utilized by HRA personnel. The fact that it serves as the cornerstone of HRA’s translation and interpretation policy is proof that this policy is simply a sham.

Our results indicate:

• A majority of the organizations listed in the directory are not even aware that they are listed.

• Of the organizations which said they were aware of being listed, a majority state they are contacted by HRA personnel once per month or less frequently to provide translation or interpretation services.

• Not one of the organizations surveyed stated that HRA had ever done any quality monitoring of their capability to provide these services.