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

BOSTON, MA – Policymakers and immigrant rights activists from the Mass Speaks Coalition were among those who unveiled today the Language Access and Inclusion Act, which will increase the availability of non-English language resources at the state’s publicly accessible government agencies , such as MassHealth, the Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Unemployment Assistance.

Supporters said at a news conference that the bill is badly needed in Massachusetts, where one in ten residents is said to have limited English skills.

“I am proud to re-table our Language Access and Integration Bill, which will require public-facing government agencies to provide robust translation and interpretation services,” said MP Adrian Madaro. “People with limited English skills and those who are deaf or hard of hearing contribute to the vitality and vibrancy of our Commonwealth. Whether applying for a state ID card or securing unemployment insurance after a sudden job loss, everyone deserves access to government, regardless of the language they speak.”

Introduced as SD.1066 by Sen. 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 require public-facing government agencies to provide interpretation services and translate important texts Documents in non-English languages. In addition, the bill would enforce minimum language accessibility standards and ensure staffing and training in publicly accessible government agencies. It would also establish an Advisory Board with representatives from limited English speaking communities, the deaf or hard of hearing community and community groups/legal service providers to assist authorities in implementing the law.

“Access to languages ​​is critical to the well-being and daily life of so many people who live in our Commonwealth, particularly those living in my district,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico. “Non-English speaking residents deserve equal access to all government services, from health information to education to unemployment and more important resources. I am so proud to be working with the Mass Speaks Coalition on this important law and look forward to working with them to get this law through the finish line.”

“It is an essential task of government to ensure that it serves all of its citizens equally,” MP Carlos González said. “The legislation would expand access to immigrants, non-English speakers and English as a second language. It would be a significant step towards greater equity in the delivery of services across the Commonwealth to every resident, regardless of their first language.”

The push to pass the Language Access and Inclusion Act follows the state’s November 2022 move to allocate funds to strengthen language access resources at the Motor Vehicle Registry. Then the state allocated funds for services, programs and activities to expand language access. Advocates hailed the move as a strong step in the right direction, particularly given how high-profile RMV is, but said it was critical that the state build on this success and enact language access reform in all high-visibility state entities.

“People who are best served in a language other than English are among the most vulnerable populations and are severely affected by language injustices,” said Georgia Katsoulomitis, executive director of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. “For too long language barriers in government agencies and other public institutions have resulted in denied rights to due process, essential services and support, and lost opportunities – as well as inefficiency in the administration of government agencies. We must address long-standing barriers to language access by passing the Language Access and Inclusion Act. This is not only right, it is smart to ensure everyone in the Commonwealth has the opportunity to thrive and thrive.”

“For already vulnerable families, facing serious problems that threaten to destabilize their lives and trying to navigate complicated systems of government, language barriers become an insurmountable obstacle preventing them from accessing the help they need,” said Deborah Silva, executive director of the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. “From families struggling to keep food on the table to parents permanently losing custody of their children, there is as much at stake as possible. The failure of government agencies to meet the language needs of all residents is unacceptable and it is time for our leaders to act.”

“By passing the Language Access and Inclusion Act, the state can take a critical step forward to empower hundreds of thousands of immigrants,” said Elizabeth Sweet, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition. “Whether it’s a young family navigating their children through the Department of Primary and Secondary Education, or a retired couple working with the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Language Access and Integration Act will break down communication barriers and helping many achieve the best basic needs. We thank Senator DiDomenico, Congressman Madaro, and Congressman Gonzalez for their support and call on the Legislature to pass this legislation and on the Governor to sign this legislation expeditiously.”

The Language Access and Inclusion Act was first introduced in 2021 by Sen. DiDomenico, Rep. Madaro, and Rep. González. The bill received 25 co-sponsors in the House and Senate and was reported positively by the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Overview.

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