- Signage/language access information
- Written translations
- Remedies for failure to provide language access
Signage/language access information
Generally, federal law requires state agencies to provide signage in a language other than English if there is a need. A need is determined if a local office’s service area includes 5% or more low income households who speak the same non-English language, and do not have an adult fluent in English as a second language. Census Data is used to determine if a need exists. There are exceptions requiring more than 5% and situations where Census data must be supplemented. [See, generally, 7 C.F.R. § 272.4(b).]
In California, county welfare departments are required to provide translated signage for non-English-speaking language groups of a substantial number. [MPP § 21-107.212.] A “substantial number” is defined as a language group having 5% or more of ongoing cases in the county. [MPP § 21-104(s)(2).] The percentage can be calculated by dividing the total number of ongoing cases in a county for non-English-speakers of a particular language group, by the total number of ongoing cases for the county. [MPP § 21-115.13.] Should the number be 5% or greater, then the county must provide signage in that particular language. In addition, all counties must have policies and procedures to determine the language needs of applicants and recipients. See, generally, California Department of Social Services, Office of Human Rights, Civil Rights Bureau, Civil Rights Annual Plan Guidelines (2009).
Federal law requires state agencies to provide bilingual staff and interpreters for areas with 100 or more low income households who speak the same non-English language. An exception can be made for some areas with less than 100 such households. [7 C.F.R. § 272.4(b)(3)(ii).]
California law requires the county CalFresh office to have bilingual workers for any language group of a “substantial number.” [MPP § 21-115.] For smaller language groups, the county is required to have free, competent interpreters. The county must also provide such interpreters when a bilingual worker is not available. [MPP § 21-115.15.] Put simply, counties have a basic obligation to provide bilingual staff or interpreters.
The county CalFresh office should have application forms, notices, and other CalFresh information available in the written languages of the community. [MPP §§ 63-202.21, 21-107.2;7 C.F.R. §§ 272.4(b)(2), (3).] Counties are required to provided state-translated materials regardless of the size of the language group in their office. [MPP § 21-115.2.]
At the federal level, applicants and recipients who do not speak English may also have rights to language assistance and materials in different languages. (See Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d.) USDA’s regulations to enforce Title VI most certainly apply to the CalFresh Program. [7 C.F.R. §§ 15.3(a), (b), (d)(5).] Federal guidance in this area is informed by Presidential Executive Order 13166 and USDA policy set forth in its Guidance to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Limited English Proficient Persons, 67 Fed. Reg. 41455-41472 (June 18, 2002).]
That said, as a practical matter the California-specific CalFresh benefits bilingual regulations are more useful because they are more specific and triggered at a lower threshold than the amorphous balancing factors of the federal guidance, above.
Remedies for failure to provide language access
California hearing regulations provide extended time to request a hearing if the county failed to use language-compliant notices. When notices are sent in English to someone who designated himself as a non-English speaker, even though the state has an appropriately translated notice available, the time to request a state hearing does not begin to run. [MPP § 22-009.1.] It could also be notices sent in English because the state lacked an appropriately translated notice, but the county failed to provide an interpreter, even though one was requested in a timely manner. [MPP §§ 22-001(l)(1)(b), 22-009.11.] California law also extends the time to request a hearing to 180 days after the date of the notice of action (or as required by equity) for “good cause.”” [Welf. & Inst. Code § 10951.]
Applicants and recipients can make various due process and other fairness arguments against a CalFresh office for its failures to provide meaningful help with translation. Offices must provide appropriately translated program rules and requirements. The program rules and requirements can be written, or explained by an interpreter. In addition, applicants and recipients can file a civil rights complaint “within 180 days of the actual discrimination.” If the level of one’s benefits and services were affected by a lack of proper language access, the person must ask for a hearing within 90 days. [Id.]