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

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.