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Meng Introduces Legislation Requiring Federal Government Agencies to Translate Coronavirus Materials into Multiple Languages

Apr 28, 2020
Press Release
Congresswoman’s bill would remove barriers that ethnic and non-English speaking communities in Queens and across the country face in accessing critical COVID-19 information
QUEENS, NY – U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) today announced the introduction of legislation that would require all federal government agencies to translate into multiple languages all written COVID-19-related materials that are produced for the public.
 
The COVID-19 Language Access Act would apply to any federal agency that receives coronavirus-related funding. It would mandate agencies to provide written resources in 19 languages including: Spanish, Arabic, Cambodian, Chinese, Haitian Creole, French, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Russian, Tagalog, Urdu, Vietnamese, Greek, Polish, Thai, and Portuguese.
 
“Since the beginning of this pandemic, I have worked to help translate materials released by the Trump administration and federal agencies in order for the many diverse communities in my district to obtain the critical information they need about COVID-19,” said Congresswoman Meng. “But it must be the job of our federal agencies translate their own resources so that all ethnic and non-English speaking communities in Queens and throughout the country can receive the materials they require. It is unacceptable that federal agencies have not provided all these translations, but the passage of my bill would ensure that they finally do. Language barriers must never prevent anybody from accessing vital and potentially life-saving information. Nobody should ever be left in the dark about the coronavirus, and providing these translations would be critical in our fight to combat the illness.”
 
The languages selected for translations in the legislation are based on languages required in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Language Access Plan for Disaster Assistance. The plan, released on October 1, 2016, seeks to address the language needs of diverse populations.
 
Meng noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does provide language accessibility telephone services in 16 languages and some COVID-19-related material in up to 14 languages. Additionally, the recently enacted CARES Act that Meng supported requires the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide resources in 10 languages. But the Congresswoman emphasized the need for all agencies to provide coronavirus-related resources in as many languages as possible, and as quickly as possible. A study revealed that 25.9 million individuals in the United States were Limited English Proficient (LEP) in 2015.
 
“All Americans, including the 25 million Americans who have limited English proficiency, desperately need and absolutely deserve timely and accurate information during this global pandemic,” said Juliet K. Choi, Executive Vice President at the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum and the former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. “If this section of our population does not have access to public health information in their primary language, and if front line workers are not equipped with the language resources they need in serving the public, we cannot expect our national response to succeed. Our government must respect each person’s right to participate in the health and economic recovery effort. I applaud Congresswoman Meng for introducing the COVID–19 Language Access Act, which would ensure language is not a barrier to receiving consequential information about this public health crisis.”
 
“Covid-19 is putting all communities at risk – but some face additional challenges getting the information needed to make appropriate health decisions. Language divides are already putting non-English speakers at greater risk,” said Frankie Miranda, President of the Hispanic Federation. “Sporadic translation of some health and other information into a few languages other than English is inadequate in a country where over 60 million people - almost 1 in 5 - have limited English proficiency. Health literacy, and knowing where and how to seek care and other assistance, becomes especially important for individuals and the communities they live in during a national health crisis. This is not the time for the federal government to take a hit-and-miss approach to this critical need.”
 
“We applaud the introduction of the COVID-19 Language Access Act that will require federal agencies to translate COVID-19 materials in 19 languages, including 10 Asian languages,” said John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC). “This legislation will ensure that federal agencies reach and serve vulnerable communities pro-actively as part of their mandate to provide ‘meaningful access’ to government services and programs. About one in three Asian Americans has limited proficiency in English, and this bill will help ensure that our communities have the vital information necessary to protect their health and access care, obtain financial resources, and safeguard their civil rights.”
 
"The National Health Law Program is excited to endorse Rep. Meng’s COVID-19 Language Access Act,” said Mara Youdelman, Managing Attorney (DC Office) of the National Health Law Program. “While effective communication is important all the time, language access is especially critical during a pandemic to ensure that limited English proficient individuals and their families know how to respond to COVID-19 and, if they get sick, where to go for treatment."
 
“In recognizing and supporting language access during this crisis, Representative Meng and her colleagues honor the diversity and reality of America and its languages,” said William P. Rivers, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Joint National Committee for LanguagesNational Council for Languages and International Studies. “The 120 organizations who comprise of the Joint National Committee for Languages are committed to ensuring that language services and language education remain available for all who need it.” 
 
“Language barriers deny many in our diverse communities from accessing vital information or services they qualify for and need to stay healthy, pay rent, and buy food,” said Eric Rodriguez, Senior Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at UnidosUS. “We thank Congresswoman Meng for the introduction of this bill and pledge to continue to fight for robust inclusion of everyone in healthcare and economic relief so that as a nation we can put this pandemic behind us and help fuel our nation’s recovery.”
 
Meng’s bill has been endorsed by the Joint National Committee for Languages–National Council for Languages and International Studies, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), Hispanic Federation, National Health Law Program, Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE) and UnidosUS.  
 
The measure also has 34 cosponsors including Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), David Price (D-NC), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Eddie Bernice Johnson, (D-TX), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Donna Shalala (D-FL), André Carson (D-IN), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), José Serrano (D-NY), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Danny Davis (D-IL), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Mark Takano (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Katie Porter (D-CA), Ed Case (D-HI) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA).   
 
A copy of the legislation can be viewed here.