Gov. signs bill ensuring New Mexicans who speak languages other than English can access state services

SANTA FE—Today, after over a decade of work by families and community leaders seeking fair access to state agencies for New Mexicans who don’t speak English, the governor signed a bill mandating state agencies create and implement plans for translation and interpretation services. 

House Bill 22: Limited English Access To State Programs goes into effect July 2023.

“This law will ensure more New Mexicans their rights to public resources, alleviate small grassroots organizations of the burden of being a catch-all to fill gaps in accessible services, and give informed decision making power and agency back to New Mexicans,” said Sachi Watase of the New Mexico Asian Family Center. “Our communities have asked for equitable language access. Today, we are thrilled that our state is taking this step to honor the commitment and decades of work from my predecessors and ancestors, community-based organizations and advocates, our bill sponsors, legislators and public officials, essential workers who have witnessed the harm language barriers have caused first-hand, and of course, the generations of individuals, families, communities and allies across New Mexico who have worked tirelessly to lay the groundwork to help us get here today.”

Sponsored by Representatives Kay Bounkeua, Patricia Roybal Caballero and Senators Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez and Mimi Stewart, HB 22 requires all state agencies with secretaries to collect data on language use by families the agency serves and to develop and implement plans for ensuring meaningful access to state services through translation and interpretation. 

“Our state’s cultures and languages are some of our greatest strengths,” said Verenice Peregrino Pompa, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “We thank the governor for demonstrating her commitment to racial justice by signing this bill into law. We also thank the bill’s sponsors and the NM Asian Family Center for leading this effort for fair access to state services for all New Mexicans regardless of the language they speak.”

The bill’s signing follows a February 25, 2022 federal court ruling reaffirming the New Mexico Human Services Department’s obligation to identify languages spoken by families trying to access food and medical assistance and to translate documents based on the demographics of those served by local agency offices. The court also ordered HSD to include information on the availability of language assistance services on Medicaid notices and to immediately fix its automated phone system to offer interpretation in multiple languages. 

The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions entered into a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor in 2020, requiring the agency to translate the application and other documents used in the unemployment system. 

New Mexicans who speak languages other than English have reported barriers accessing food and medical assistance, which has been especially difficult during the pandemic. Some lost food assistance multiple times because notices about renewing benefits are only in English. Others reported having to pay private interpreters, despite having no income and having to deal with unnecessary in-person contact during the public health emergency. 

Community-based organizations that work directly with New Mexicans that speak languages other than English or Spanish, like the New Mexico Asian Family Center and the Refugee Well-being Project, currently have to divert limited resources in order to provide translation and interpretation services that are the state’s responsibility under federal and state law. 

Many New Mexicans speak languages other than English–including Vietnamese, Chinese, Dari, Arabic, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, and Diné. Many of these languages meet population thresholds that require translation of food and medical assistance applications and documents under federal law. However, the state typically only provides written documents in English and at times in Spanish, and oral interpreters can be difficult to reach without additional help. 

The court order can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/language-access-order-hatten-gonzales-v-scrase-2022-03-01/

Information on HB 22 can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1j6ZmNw7JHYZ3KoXzTwq-nU26SIQRUxeZ/view 

Court orders HSD to make phone line available in more languages and notify Medicaid recipients of language assistance services

ALBUQUERQUE—Late Friday, a federal court reaffirmed the New Mexico Human Services Department’s obligation to identify languages spoken by families trying to access food and medical assistance and to translate documents based on the demographics of those served by local agency offices. The court also ordered HSD to include information on the availability of language assistance services on Medicaid notices and to immediately fix its automated phone system to offer interpretation in multiple languages. Currently, individuals who don’t speak English or Spanish cannot access interpretation services using the phone line.

“The court made it clear that the Asian language speaking community does matter and, contrary to HSD’s hurtful assertion, has a significant presence in our state,” said Sachi Watase of the New Mexico Asian Family Center. “Everyone, including those who speak languages other than English, deserves to have access to the resources intended to support them. Unfortunately, too many New Mexicans’ health and safety are predefined by these inequitable barriers. Lack of translation is part of a systemic problem that ignores the existence of Asians in New Mexico. We hope HSD will change course and make an honest effort to improve access to all New Mexicans.”

The ruling comes as New Mexicans urge Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to sign a bill mandating that state agencies plan for translation and interpretation services. For years advocates and community members have called for fair access to state services for New Mexicans who speak languages other than English. If House Bill 22: Limited English Access To State Programs is signed into law, it would require all state agencies with secretaries perform a language use analysis and develop an agency language access plan, similar to analysis required under federal food stamp regulations. 

“The court recognized that everyone, including those who speak languages other than English, should have access to food and medical assistance,” said Sovereign Hager, New Mexico Center on Law Poverty Legal Director. “The governor prioritized language access when she provided public information about Covid-19 vaccines and tests. HB 22 is an opportunity to institutionalize the same attention to equity across state agencies. New Mexicans ask her to sign this bill.”

Many New Mexicans speak languages other than English–including Vietnamese, Chinese, Dari, Arabic, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, and Diné/Navaho. Many of these languages meet population thresholds that require translation of food and medical assistance applications and documents under federal law. However, the state only provides written documents in English and Spanish and oral interpreters are nearly impossible to reach without additional help. 

The ruling was on a motion filed by applicants for food and medical assistance, represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty in the Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. David Scrase lawsuit. 

New Mexican families who speak languages other than English have reported barriers accessing food and medical assistance, which has been especially difficult during the pandemic. Some lost food assistance multiple times because notices about renewing benefits are only in English. Others reported having to pay private interpreters, despite having no income and having to deal with unnecessary in-person contact during the public health emergency. 

Despite repeated attempts since 2009 to bring these issues to HSD’s attention, the agency refused to address them. 

Currently, community-based organizations that work directly with New Mexicans that speak languages other than English or Spanish, like the New Mexico Asian Family Center and the Refugee Well-being Project, have to divert limited resources and take on additional clients to provide translation and interpretation services that are the state’s responsibility under federal and state law. 

The long-running Hatten-Gonzales lawsuit was originally filed in 1989. In 2016, the court held former HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove systemic barriers to assistance for eligible families applying for food and Medicaid assistance and appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department.

The court said a written order on Friday’s ruling will be forthcoming.

The January 2022 court order can be found here: https://cookieless-offload.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/nmpovertylaw/Order-Language+Access-DHG-2022-01-21-compressed.pdf

The September 2021 order for HSD to implement a corrective action plan can be found here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1r-N6N8KCIk1sJDxxxywIY5Zz7dIeRf81/view?usp=sharing

Information on  HB 22 can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1j6ZmNw7JHYZ3KoXzTwq-nU26SIQRUxeZ/view 

MEDIA ADVISORY

Court hearing FRIDAY: HSD must translate food stamp applications immediately, argue plaintiffs

ALBUQUERQUE—On Friday in a federal court, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty will argue that census data shows the New Mexico Human Services Department should begin translating food and medical assistance applications and notices into Vietnamese, Chinese, and Diné/Navajo immediately.

In January 2022, Judge Kenneth Gonzales ordered HSD to collect data on the languages spoken by New Mexicans served by the state’s food and medical assistance program and affirmed the agency’s legal obligation to translate documents based on the demographics of those served by local agency offices. The ruling was on a motion filed by applicants for food and medical assistance, represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty in the Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. David Scrase lawsuit. 

Plaintiffs have provided census data showing that there are more than 100 low-income families that primarily speak Vietnamese, Chinese, and Diné/Navajo in areas served by a single office, which under federal law requires translation of the food and medical assistance application and other documents. Plaintiffs argue no further research is needed on these groups while HSD collects data on other non-English speaking populations in New Mexico.

For years advocates and community members have called for fair access to state services for New Mexicans who speak languages other than English. This last session the Legislature passed House Bill 22: Limited English Access To State Programs, which awaits the governor’s signature. If signed into law, it would require all state agencies with secretaries perform a language use analysis and develop an agency language access plan, similar to analysis required under federal food stamp regulations. 

New Mexican families who speak languages other than English have reported barriers accessing food and medical assistance, which has been especially difficult during the pandemic. 

WHAT: 

Hearing on language access motion in Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. David Scrase

WHO:

  • U.S. District Judge Kenneth J. Gonzales
  • Counsel for plaintiffs: Sovereign Hager, Verenice Peregrino Pompa, and Teague González of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and Daniel Yohalem, civil rights attorney
  • Counsel for HSD

WHEN: 

Friday, February 25, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.

WHERE:

Pete V. Domenici U.S. Courthouse, 4th Floor Chama Courtroom, 333 Lomas Avenue, Albuquerque 87102

*The hearing will take place in person. Masks are required in all federal courtrooms.

Judge Gonzales January, 2022 court order can be found here: https://cookieless-offload.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/nmpovertylaw/Order-Language+Access-DHG-2022-01-21-compressed.pdf

The plaintiffs’ reply brief with census data can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/doc-1036-deborah-hatten-gonzales-reply-on-motion-for-clarification_nmclp_2022-02-18/

The September 2021 order for HSD to implement a corrective action plan can be found here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1r-N6N8KCIk1sJDxxxywIY5Zz7dIeRf81/view?usp=sharing

Action Alert: Key legislation awaits the governor’s signature. You can help!

Your dedication and countless phone calls, emails, and comments in hearings worked! Huge efforts to stop predatory lending by capping interest rates on small loans, parity for Native language teachers, access to state services in languages other than English, and easy enrollment in healthcare could be a reality for New Mexico’s families. 

We need your help to get these bills signed and over the finish line! Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has until March 9 to sign legislation.

Please contact the governor this week by calling her office at (505) 476-2200 and leave a message with her office to “Please sign HB 22, HB 60, HB 95, and HB 132.” You can also email her using this form: https://www.governor.state.nm.us/contact-the-governor/.

Bills awaiting signature: 

HB 22: Limited English Access to State Programs requires state agencies to develop plans to provide help in languages other than English, ensuring that more New Mexicans can access state services. 

HB 60: Native American Language Certificate Salaries ensures that Native language teachers are treated fairly, on par with other teachers, promoting language preservation and student educational success.

HB 95 Easy Enrollment Act allows uninsured residents  to use their state income tax returns as an easy way to get information on available health coverage plans and to enroll in any plans they are eligible for. 

HB 132: Interest Rates for Certain Loans requires an all-inclusive 36% APR cap on storefront loans and ensures that New Mexico’s laws prevent abusive and predatory financial practices. 

Thank you for your tireless efforts! Let’s get the bills passed made into law.

Bill ensuring New Mexicans who speak languages other than English can access state services passes Legislature

SANTA FE—HB 22, a bill mandating state agencies create and implement plans for translation and interpretation services, awaits the governor’s signature. The bill passed the Senate unanimously today.

Sponsored by Representatives Kay Bounkeua, Patricia Roybal Caballero and Senators Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez and Mimi Stewart, House Bill 22: Limited English Access To State Programs requires all state agencies with secretaries to collect data on language use by families the agency serves and to develop and implement plans for ensuring meaningful access to state services through translation and interpretation.

“All New Mexicans deserve equal access to state services, regardless of the language they speak,” said Sachi Watase of the New Mexico Asian Family Center. “HB 22 will help to rectify state agencies’ current lack of adequate translation and interpretation.”

New Mexican families and community leaders have been seeking access to translation and interpretation at state agencies for over a decade. New Mexicans who speak languages other than English have reported barriers accessing food and medical assistance, which has been especially difficult during the pandemic. Some lost food assistance multiple times because notices about renewing benefits are only in English. Others reported having to pay private interpreters, despite having no income and having to deal with unnecessary in-person contact during the public health emergency. 

Community-based organizations that work directly with New Mexicans that speak languages other than English or Spanish, like the New Mexico Asian Family Center and the Refugee Well-being Project, currently have to divert limited resources in order to provide translation and interpretation services that are the state’s responsibility under federal and state law. 

“A plan is the critical first step so agencies can determine how to best provide the necessary translation and interpretation services that are required so New Mexicans can access state services,” said Verenice Peregrino Pompa, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The bill will increase coordination among agencies by having the plans reported to the Legislative Finance Committee and the governor.”

Many New Mexicans speak languages other than English–including Vietnamese, Chinese, Dari, Arabic, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, and Diné. Many of these languages meet population thresholds that require translation of food and medical assistance applications and documents under federal law. However, the state typically only provides written documents in English and at times in Spanish and oral interpreters can be difficult to reach without additional help. 

On January 21, 2022 a federal court ordered the New Mexico Human Services Department to collect data on the languages spoken by New Mexicans served by the state’s food and medical assistance program and affirmed the agency’s legal obligation to translate documents based on the demographics of those served by local agency offices. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

The court order can be found here: https://cookieless-offload.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/nmpovertylaw/Order-Language+Access-DHG-2022-01-21-compressed.pdf

Information on  HB 22 can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1j6ZmNw7JHYZ3KoXzTwq-nU26SIQRUxeZ/view

TODAY: Support access to state services in languages other than English!

Help ensure all New Mexicans can access state services in languages other than English!

HB 22: Limited English Access to State Programs is scheduled to be heard TODAY at 6:00 p.m. on the Senate Floor. We need your help to get it passed! 

Please call and email your senator to urge them to support the bill. 

All New Mexicans deserve equal access to state services, regardless of the language they speak. New Mexico is home to thousands of people that primarily speak Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Diné and other languages. Despite being required by law, many agencies do not provide information and services in languages New Mexicans understand. Lack of language services has delayed or prevented New Mexicans from applying for unemployment insurance, food assistance, and Medicaid prior to and during the pandemic and deepens economic and health disparities in our communities. 

HB 22 requires state agencies to develop plans to provide help in languages other than English, ensuring that more New Mexicans can access state services. 

You can share a personal story about why state agencies should provide interpretation or translation. You can also say something like this: “I urge senators to support HB 22. All New Mexicans should have access to state services. Coordinating and planning language services is a common sense step to address health and economic inequities in our state services.”

HB 22 Summary

Language Access Analysis, Plan, and Annual Report will increase language access by requiring state agencies to: 

  • Collect data on the number of New Mexicans agencies that primarily speak a language other than English and determine the resources needed to ensure meaningful access to services through translation and interpretation.
  • Develop and implement an annual plan to provide meaningful access to state programs for individuals who primarily speak languages other than English. 
  • Submit the annual report to the governor and the Legislative Finance Committee.

Instructions for Contacting Your Senator

When: Before 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 15, 2022

How: Please choose the senator that represents your district from the contact list below and email and/or call them to urge them to support the bill. 

What to You Can Say: Hello, my name is __________, I live in ________ and my zip code is _______. I am calling to urge Senator ________ to support HB22. Every New Mexican should have access to state services regardless of the language they speak. The many languages and cultures in New Mexico are one of our greatest strengths and this bill ensures that none of our communities are left behind. 

Senators: 2022 Legislative Session

  • Gregory A. Baca: (505) 986-4877, greg.baca@nmlegis.gov
  • Craig W. Brandt: (505) 986-4385, craig.brandt@nmlegis.gov
  • William F. Burt: (505) 986-4366, bill.burt@nmlegis.gov
  • Pete Campos: (505) 986-4311, pete.campos@nmlegis.gov
  • Jacob R. Candelaria: (505) 986-4380, jacob.candelaria@nmlegis.gov
  • Joseph Cervantes: (505) 986-4861, joseph.cervantes@nmlegis.gov
  • Crystal R. Diamond: (505) 986-4703, crystal.diamond@nmlegis.gov
  • Katy M. Duhigg: (505) 986-4726, katy.duhigg@nmlegis.gov
  • David M. Gallegos: (505) 986-4278, david.rsi@hotmail.com
  • Roberto “Bobby” J. Gonzales: (505) 986-4362, roberto.gonzales@nmlegis.gov
  • Ron Griggs: (505) 986-4391, ron.griggs@nmlegis.gov
  • Carrie Hamblen: (505) 986-4266, carrie.hamblen@nmlegis.gov
  • Siah Correa Hemphill: (505) 986-4863, siah.hemphill@nmlegis.gov
  • Martin Hickey: (505) 986-4513, martin.hickey@nmlegis.gov
  • Stuart Ingle: (505) 986-4702, stuart.ingle@nmlegis.gov
  • Daniel A. Ivey-Soto: (505) 986-4270, daniel.ivey-soto@nmlegis.gov
  • Leo Jaramillo: (505) 986-4487, leo.jaramillo@nmlegis.gov
  • Gay G. Kernan: (505) 986-4274, gay.kernan@nmlegis.gov
  • Linda M. Lopez: (505) 986-4737linda.lopez@nmlegis.gov
  • Brenda G. McKenna(505) 986-4301, brenda.mckenna@nmlegis.gov
  • Mark Moores: mark.moores@nmlegis.gov
  • George K. Munoz: (505) 986-4371, george.munoz@nmlegis.gov
  • Steven P. Neville: (505) 986-4701, steven.neville@nmlegis.gov
  • Bill B. O’Neill: (505) 986-4260, oneillsd13@billoneillfornm.com
  • Gerald Ortiz y Pino: (505) 986-4482, jortizyp@msn.com
  • Michael Padilla: (505) 986-4267, michael.padilla@nmlegis.gov
  • Shannon D. Pinto: (505) 986-4835, shannon.pinto@nmlegis.gov
  • Cliff R. Pirtle: (505) 986-4369, cliff.pirtle@nmlegis.gov
  • Harold Pope: (505) 986-4365, harold.popejr@nmlegis.gov
  • Nancy Rodriguez: (505) 986-4264, nancy.rodriguez@nmlegis.gov
  • Joshua A. Sanchez: (505) 986-4375, jas4nm@gmail.com
  • Gregg Schmedes: (505) 986-4395, gregg.schmedes@nmlegis.gov
  • Antoinette Sedillo Lopez: (505) 986-4389, a.sedillolopez@nmlegis.gov
  • William E. Sharer: (505) 986-4381, bill@williamsharer.com
  • Benny Shendo: (505) 986-4310, benny.shendo@nmlegis.gov
  • William P. Soules: (505) 986-4834, bill.soules@nmlegis.gov
  • Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics: (505) 986-4377l, stefanics@msn.com
  • Jeff Steinborn: (505) 986-4862, jeff.steinborn@nmlegis.gov
  • Mimi Stewart: (505) 986-4734, https://bit.ly/ContactSenStewart
  • Bill Tallman: (505) 986-4373, bill.tallman@nmlegis.gov
  • Peter Wirth: (505) 986-4727, peter.wirth@nmlegis.gov
  • Pat Woods: (505) 986-4393, pat.woods@nmlegis.gov

TODAY: Help ensure all New Mexicans can access state services in languages other than English!

HB 22: Limited English Access to State Programs is scheduled to be heard TODAY at 1:30 p.m. in the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee. We need your help to get it passed! (The bill was originally scheduled for last Friday.)

Please join the virtual committee hearing today and provide public comment in support of the bill. The committee often begins late. Please try again if the meeting has not started when you try the Zoom link.

All New Mexicans deserve equal access to state services, regardless of the language they speak. New Mexico is home to thousands of people that primarily speak Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Diné and other languages. Despite being required by law, many agencies do not provide information and services in languages New Mexicans understand. Lack of language services has delayed or prevented New Mexicans from applying for unemployment insurance, food assistance, and Medicaid prior to and during the pandemic and deepens economic and health disparities in our communities. 

HB 22 requires state agencies to develop plans to provide help in languages other than English, ensuring that more New Mexicans can access state services. 

You can share a personal story about why state agencies should provide interpretation or translation. You can also say something like this: “I urge senators to support HB 22. All New Mexicans should have access to state services. Coordinating and planning language services is a common sense step to address health and economic inequities in our state services.”

HB 22 Summary

Language Access Analysis, Plan, and Annual Report will increase language access by requiring state agencies to: 

  • Collect data on the number of New Mexicans agencies that primarily speak a language other than English and determine the resources needed to ensure meaningful access to services through translation and interpretation.
  • Develop and implement an annual plan to provide meaningful access to state programs for individuals who primarily speak languages other than English. 
  • Submit the annual report to the governor and the Legislative Finance Committee.

Public comment instructions

When: 1:30 p.m., Monday, February 14 2022

How: Click on this Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87967039414  
or join by phone: 1 (669) 900-9128
Webinar ID for SHPAC: 879 6703 9414

What to Expect During the Hearing 

The committee will be taking public comment. The chair of the committee will announce the bill and ask who supports HB 22. At that time, to provide a comment use the Zoom reaction button and raise your hand. The chair will call your name and unmute your Zoom when it is your turn to speak.

Tips 

  • Keep your remarks brief and to the point.
  • If you have a personal story about how state agencies’ lack of interpretation or translation services has impacted you or your family, please share it.
  • Close the Legislature’s webcast page when you give your comment so there is not an echo during your remarks.
  • Make sure you are not muted when you start speaking.
  • Do not rely on your computer or phone for notes. Write them down or print them in case your computer screen freezes.
  • Close other tabs and windows in your browser to make sure your connection is good.
  • If your connection or microphone doesn’t work, be prepared to call in with the information above. 

Action Alert: Help ensure all New Mexicans can access state services in languages other than English!

HB 22: Limited English Access to State Programs is scheduled to be heard TOMORROW at 1:30 p.m. in the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee. We need your help to get it passed! 

Please join the virtual committee hearing tomorrow and provide public comment in support of the bill. 

All New Mexicans deserve equal access to state services, regardless of the language they speak. New Mexico is home to thousands of people that primarily speak Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Diné and other languages. Despite being required by law, many agencies do not provide information and services in languages New Mexicans understand. Lack of language services has delayed or prevented New Mexicans from applying for unemployment insurance, food assistance, and Medicaid prior to and during the pandemic and deepens economic and health disparities in our communities. 

HB 22 requires state agencies to develop plans to provide help in languages other than English, ensuring that more New Mexicans can access state services. 

You can share a personal story about why state agencies should provide interpretation or translation. You can also say something like this: “I urge senators to support HB 22. All New Mexicans should have access to state services. Coordinating and planning language services is a common sense step to address health and economic inequities in our state services.”

HB 22 Summary

Language Access Analysis, Plan, and Annual Report will increase language access by requiring state agencies to: 

  • Collect data on the number of New Mexicans agencies that primarily speak a language other than English and determine the resources needed to ensure meaningful access to services through translation and interpretation.
  • Develop and implement an annual plan to provide meaningful access to state programs for individuals who primarily speak languages other than English. 
  • Submit the annual report to the governor and the Legislative Finance Committee.

Public comment instructions

When: 1:30 p.m. on Friday, February 11, 2022

How: Click on this Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87967039414  
or join by phone: 1 (669) 900-9128
Webinar ID for SHPAC: 879 6703 9414

What to Expect During the Hearing 

The committee will be taking public comment. The chair of the committee will announce the bill and ask who supports HB 22. At that time, to provide a comment use the Zoom reaction button and raise your hand. The chair will call your name and unmute your Zoom when it is your turn to speak.

Tips 

  • Keep your remarks brief and to the point.
  • If you have a personal story about how state agencies’ lack of interpretation or translation services has impacted you or your family, please share it.
  • Close the Legislature’s webcast page when you give your comment so there is not an echo during your remarks.
  • Make sure you are not muted when you start speaking.
  • Do not rely on your computer or phone for notes. Write them down or print them in case your computer screen freezes.
  • Close other tabs and windows in your browser to make sure your connection is good.
  • If your connection or microphone doesn’t work, be prepared to call in with the information above. 

URGENT: Support access to state services in languages other than English TOMORROW at 12:00 NOON!

Help ensure all New Mexicans can access state services in languages other than English!

HB 22: Limited English Access to State Programs is scheduled to be heard TOMORROW at 12:00 p.m. in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. We need your help to get it passed! 

Please join the virtual committee hearing and provide public comment in support of the bill. A Zoom link will be available on the PDF calendar posted here

All New Mexicans deserve equal access to state services, regardless of the language they speak. New Mexico is home to thousands of people that primarily speak Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Diné and other languages. Despite being required by law, many agencies do not provide information and services in languages New Mexicans understand. Lack of language services has delayed or prevented New Mexicans from applying for unemployment insurance, food assistance, and Medicaid prior to and during the pandemic and deepens economic and health disparities in our communities. 

HB 22 requires state agencies to develop plans to provide help in languages other than English, ensuring that more New Mexicans can access state services. 

You can share a personal story about why state agencies should provide interpretation or translation. You can also say something like this: “I urge senators to support HB 22. All New Mexicans should have access to state services. Coordinating and planning language services is a common sense step to address health and economic inequities in our state services.”

HB 22 Summary

Language Access Analysis, Plan, and Annual Report will increase language access by requiring state agencies to: 

  • Collect data on the number of New Mexicans agencies that primarily speak a language other than English and determine the resources needed to ensure meaningful access to services through translation and interpretation.
  • Develop and implement an annual plan to provide meaningful access to state programs for individuals who primarily speak languages other than English. 
  • Submit the annual report to the governor and the Legislative Finance Committee.

Public comment instructions

  • When: 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 5, 2022
  • How: Click on the PDF calendar available here for a Zoom link. 

What to expect during the hearing 

The committee will be taking public comment. The chair of the committee will announce the bill and ask who supports HB 22. At that time, to provide a comment use the Zoom reaction button and raise your hand. The chair will call your name and unmute your Zoom when it is your turn to speak.

Tips 

  • Keep your remarks brief and to the point.
  • If you have a personal story about how state agencies’ lack of interpretation or translation services has impacted you or your family, please share it.
  • Close the Legislature’s webcast page when you give your comment so there is not an echo during your remarks.
  • Make sure you are not muted when you start speaking.
  • Do not rely on your computer or phone for notes. Write them down or print them in case your computer screen freezes.
  • Close other tabs and windows in your browser to make sure your connection is good.
  • If your connection or microphone doesn’t work, be prepared to call in with the information above.

Court orders state to identify languages spoken by families trying to access food and medical assistance

Ruling comes as HB 22, mandating state agencies plan for translation and interpretation services, works its way through Legislature.

ALBUQUERQUE—Last week, a federal court ordered the New Mexico Human Services Department to collect data on the languages spoken by New Mexicans served by the state’s food and medical assistance program and affirmed the agency’s legal obligation to translate documents based on the demographics of those served by local agency offices. 

“We are relieved and heartened by the judge’s order. Everyone, including those who speak languages other than English, deserves to have access to the resources intended to support them,” said Sachi Watase of the New Mexico Asian Families Center. “This kind of language discrimination is not new. Unfortunately, too many New Mexicans’ health and safety are predefined by these inequitable barriers. Lack of translation is part of a systemic problem that ignores the existence of Asians in New Mexico.”

The order gives HSD no more than 30 days to develop and begin conducting a 90-day survey and submit a report on the findings no later than 15 days after the survey is completed.

New Mexican families who speak languages other than English have reported barriers accessing food and medical assistance, which has been especially difficult during the pandemic. Some lost food assistance multiple times because notices about renewing benefits are only in English. Others reported having to pay private interpreters, despite having no income and having to deal with unnecessary in-person contact during the public health emergency. 

Despite repeated attempts since 2009 to bring these issues to HSD’s attention, the agency refused to address them. Applicants for food and medical assistance, represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, filed a motion in October 2021 in the Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. David Scrase lawsuit. US District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales ruled on the motion last Friday. 

“Everyone should have access to state services, regardless of the language they speak. The court order requiring HSD to gather language data from families seeking benefits is an important first step toward providing meaningful access to state services for New Mexicans,” said Verenice Peregrino Pompa, attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

Community-based organizations that work directly with New Mexicans that speak languages other than English or Spanish, like the New Mexico Asian Family Center and the Refugee Well-being Project, have to divert limited resources and take on additional clients to provide translation and interpretation services that are the state’s responsibility under federal and state law. 

Many New Mexicans speak languages other than English–including Vietnamese, Chinese, Dari, Arabic, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, and Diné. Many of these languages meet population thresholds that require translation of food and medical assistance applications and documents under federal law. However, the state only provides written documents in English and Spanish and oral interpreters are nearly impossible to reach without additional help. 

A bill, sponsored by Representatives Kay Bounkeua and Roybal Caballero and currently moving through the Legislature, could further help to rectify state agencies’ lack of adequate translation and interpretation. House Bill 22: Limited English Access To State Programs would require all state agencies with secretaries to perform a similar language use analysis and develop an agency language access plan. Last Friday, the same day the court order was issued, the bill passed the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee.

“A plan is critical so agencies can determine how to best provide the necessary translation and interpretation services that many New Mexicans need to access state services,” said Peregrino Pompa.

The long-running Hatten-Gonzales lawsuit was originally filed in 1989. In 2016, the court held former HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove systemic barriers to assistance for eligible families applying for food and Medicaid assistance and appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department.

The court order can be found here: https://cookieless-offload.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/nmpovertylaw/Order-Language+Access-DHG-2022-01-21-compressed.pdf

The September 2021 order for HSD to implement a corrective action plan can be found here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1r-N6N8KCIk1sJDxxxywIY5Zz7dIeRf81/view?usp=sharing

Information on HB 22 can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1j6ZmNw7JHYZ3KoXzTwq-nU26SIQRUxeZ/view