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Massachusetts activists, lawmakers announce bill to require state agencies to provide non-English robust translation and interpretation services



Photo courtesy of MIRA Coalition

Boston, MA – Policymakers and immigrants-rights activists with the Mass Speaks Coalition were among those who unveiled today the Language Access and Inclusion Act, which would dramatically expand the availability of non-English language resources at the state’s public-facing state agencies, such as MassHealth, the Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Unemployment Assistance.

Advocates at a press conference said the bill is critically needed in Massachusetts, where one-in-10 residents are considered limited English proficient.

“I’m proud to refile our bill relative to Language Access and Inclusion, which will require public-facing state agencies to provide robust translation and interpretation services,” said Representative Adrian Madaro. “People with limited English proficiency and those who are deaf or hard of hearing contribute to the vitality and vibrancy of our Commonwealth. Whether applying for a state I.D. or securing unemployment insurance after sudden job loss, everyone deserves access to government regardless of the language they speak.”

Introduced as SD.1066 by Senator Sal DiDomenico of Everett and HD.3616 by Rep. Madaro of East Boston and Rep. Carlos González of Springfield, the Language Access and Inclusion Act would mandate that public-facing state agencies provide interpretation services and translate vital documents in non-English languages. Additionally, the bill would enforce minimum language accessibility standards and ensure staff capacity and training across public-facing state agencies. It would also create an advisory board with representatives from limited English-speaking communities, the deaf or hard-of-hearing community, and community groups/legal service providers to help agencies implement the law.

“Language access is critical for the well-being and daily lives of so many people living in our Commonwealth, especially the residents of my district,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico. “Non-English-speaking residents deserve to have equal access to all government services, from public health information to education to unemployment and more crucial resources. I am so proud to partner with the Mass Speaks Coalition on this important piece of legislation and look forward to working with them to get this bill across the finish line.”

“It is an essential job of government to ensure that it is serving all of its citizens equally,” said Representative Carlos González. “The legislation would expand access to immigrant, non-native English speaking, and English as a second language communities. It would be a significant step towards increasing equity in how the Commonwealth provides services for every resident regardless of their first language.”

The push to pass the Language Access and Inclusion Act comes on the heels of the state’s November 2022 move to set aside funding bolstering language access resources at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Then, the state allocated funding for services, programs, and activities to expand language access. Advocates hailed that move as a strong step in the right direction, especially considering how public-facing the RMV is, but said it is critical that the state build off of this success and implement language access reform across all public-facing state agencies.

“People best served in a language other than English are among the most vulnerable populations and are profoundly impacted by linguistic inequities,” said Georgia Katsoulomitis, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. “For too long, language barriers in state agencies and other public institutions have resulted in the denial of due process rights, critical services and supports, and loss of opportunities–as well as inefficiency in state agency administration. We must address long-standing language access barriers by passing the Language Access and Inclusion Act. This is not only the right thing to do – it is the smart thing to do to ensure everyone in the Commonwealth has the opportunity to thrive and succeed.”

“For already vulnerable families, who are facing serious problems that threaten to destabilize their lives, and trying to navigate complicated systems of government, language barriers become an insurmountable obstacle that prevents them from accessing the help they need.” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. “From families struggling to keep food on the table to parents permanently losing custody of their children, the stakes are as high as they could possibly be. The failure of state agencies to meet the language needs of all residents is unacceptable, and it’s time for our leaders to act.”

“By passing the Language Access and Inclusion Act, the state can take a critical step forward in empowering hundreds of thousands of immigrant residents,” said Elizabeth Sweet, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition. “Whether it is a young family navigating their children through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or a retired couple working with the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Language Access and Inclusion Act will ease communication barriers and help many achieve even the most basic needs. We thank Senator DiDomenico, Representative Madaro, and Representative Gonzalez for their support, and urge the legislature to pass and the Governor to sign this bill swiftly.”

The Language Access and Inclusion Act was first introduced in 2021 by Sen. DiDomenico, Rep. Madaro, and Rep. González. The bill received 25 cosponsors across the House and Senate, and was favorably reported out of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Fed Up

    February 1, 2023 at 8:30 pm

    Just what this state needs, more programs it can’t afford.

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