Language Access and Public Benefits
Table of Contents:
The Human Services Department Has Improved Its Ability to Identify Language Needs
The Human Services Department reprogrammed its computer based eligibility determination program, ISD2, so that workers must record the language spoken by the household applying for benefits. This will help ensure the Department knows what language to utilize with the household at every stage of communication.
Language barriers can prevent effective communication between individuals and the state, and result in eligible New Mexicans not obtaining the benefits to which they are entitled. One in three New Mexican households is Spanish speaking and nearly 40,000 of these households are limited-English proficient (LEP), meaning that they primarily speak a language other than English and have a limited ability to read, speak, write or understand English.
Federal law recognizes that language barriers should not exclude people from public benefit programs and so provides that people who prefer to communicate in a language other than English have the right to interpretation and translation services free of charge. Language access rights ensure that LEP individuals have meaningful access to so that they can participate in and benefit from programs that receive federal financial assistance. This includes public benefits administered by the state such as SNAP/Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Child Care Assistance, Medicaid and more.
If the Human Services Department, or other state agencies which receive federal funding, fail to adopt and implement language-access policies which ensure that LEP individuals have meaningful access to, can participate in, and benefit from the programs they administer, the agency commits national-origin discrimination, which is prohibited by Title VI, the constitution and other federal laws.
The two primary types of language-assistance services are interpretation (oral language services) and translation (written language services). Under federal law, the Department is required to translate vital written documents into Spanish because of the high number of Spanish speaking LEP families in New Mexico. While the Human Services Department has made improvements with respect to language access in recent years, it continues to be out of compliance with federal law. For example, the Department continues to issue the most important written documents – notices telling benefits applicants and recipients whether they have been approved or denied, if their benefit amount is being changed or terminated, etc. – in English ONLY.
The Human Services Department’s failure to provide consistent and comprehensive language access results in barriers and delays to LEP New Mexicans’ ability to access badly needed assistance. This imposes a significant hardship on low-income New Mexicans who need income support, food assistance and access to healthcare. The state also loses out on federal funds in the form of benefits – when people receive federal benefits they spend them in New Mexico. These violations can result in federal sanctions.
Tell the receptionist/greeter or your worker that you prefer to use an interpreter.
If they can not understand you, they should show you a language identification poster. This poster has many languages listed on it. If you see your language, point to it so the receptionist/greeter or worker will know which language you need. If they still can not understand you, they should use the “Language Line” to get help over the phone figuring out which language you need.
If you receive something in the mail that is not in your language, call or go in and ask to have it read to you in your language.
If you request a hearing, tell the Fair Hearings Bureau what language it should use when communicating with you.
If you are not completely fluent in English, you have the right to receive services in your language. This means you have the right to an interpreter every time you speak with a worker who does not speak your language.
If you need an American Sign Language interpreter, the ISD office must give you one.
The Department must provide you with interpretation and translation services free of charge.
You have the same language access rights when you are communicating with the Fair Hearings Bureau or any other part or office of the Human Services Department.
The office should not make you wait a long time for services in your language. If you are at the ISD office to apply for benefits, you must be allowed to apply the same day that you walk in, even in you need an interpreter.
If you speak Spanish, the Human Services Department has forms that are written in your language and they should provide you with them.
If you speak a language that is not spoken by many people in your area, the ISD office does not have to give you forms and notices in your language. But the ISD office does have to tell you in your language what the forms and notices say.
You have the same language access rights when you are working with a New Mexico Works Service Provider who is providing you support services under the TANF program.
If the Human Services Department does not provide you with services in your language, you can file a complaint. Generally, you must file a complaint within 180 days. This Complaint Form can be used to file a complaint with the Department. If you are filing a complaint because you were not provided language access, check the “national origin” box.
The Center works closely with state government, poverty advocates, and community organizations in an effort to make sure that the Human Services Department complies with federal law requiring it to provide all benefits applicants and recipients with language access. Our work includes:
- Advocating for the Department to develop and implement a Language Access Plan addressing stakeholder consultation, service delivery, bilingual staffing, qualified interpreter services, public information/outreach, written communication, electronic information, technology, training and monitoring of services to ensure the Department consistently provides language access. Currently, the Department does not have a comprehensive plan or policy to ensure language access.
- Advocating for the Department to provide benefits applicants/recipients with notices in their language. In violation of federal law, the Department continues to provide English only notices to LEP individuals. These notices provide critical information such as a reduction or termination in benefits and whether your application has been approved or denied.
- Monitoring and testing to ensure the Department’s automated phone systems provide information to callers in English and Spanish.
- Monitoring and testing to ensure ISD offices have language identification posters posted so that clients know that free interpretation services are available and that they can access them.
- Monitoring how frequently the Department uses the language interpretation line to provide interpretation services for LEP clients.
- Monitoring to ensure the Department translates all forms into Spanish.
- Advocating for the Department to reprogram its computer based eligibility determination program, ISD2, so that workers must record the language spoken by the household applying for benefits. NOTE: The Department implemented this change in June 2010. This will help ensure that the Department knows what language to utilize with the household at every stage of communication.
- Advocating for the Department to develop estimates of the number of low-income LEP households participating in the SNAP program in order to inform language access policy and services.
Brochures and Factsheets:
- Know Your Rights (English | Spanish)
- Public Benefits for Immigrants (English | Spanish)
- Your Rights to a Fair Hearing (English | Spanish | Vietnamese)
- Spanish Language Identification Cards
- File a Language Access Complaint With HSD (check the national origin box)
- Memorandum: HSD Failure to Meet Legal Requirements re Language Access