Van Hollen, Ossoff is working to make government services accessible in more languages

February 11, 2022

Today, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) in calling on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to direct federal agencies to update their language access plans, to ensure people whose primary language is not English can access critical information and resources in their preferred language.

The letter led by Senator Ossoff was signed in addition to Senator Van Hollen by Senators Robert Menendez (DN.J.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio ), Jack Reed (DR.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Cory Booker (DN.J.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Martin Heinrich (DN.M .), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

“Language barriers can impact access to vital services and information related to education, the legal system, healthcare, housing, etc.” wrote the lawmakers. “We ask that you issue a memorandum directing federal agencies to update their language access plans to meet current needs.”

These language plans, some of which have not been updated for nearly a decade, would prompt agencies to update their websites to include language support services and boost the distribution of translated materials.

A recent report found that over 67 million households spoke a language other than English at home.

You can read the letter here and lower.

Dear Attorney General Garland:

Thank you for your continued service as head of the Department of Justice (DOJ). More than 25 million people living in the United States have limited English proficiency (LEP), which means they are not fluent or have difficulty communicating in English. Language barriers can impact access to vital services and information related to education, the legal system, healthcare, housing, etc. We ask that you issue a memorandum directing federal agencies to update their language access plans to meet the current needs of LEP individuals.

In 2000, Executive Order 13166 directed federal agencies to develop language access plans outlining systems for making services and resources available to LEP individuals. The executive order also directed the agencies to issue guidelines to federal grant recipients outlining their Title VI obligations to provide all users, regardless of language ability, “meaningful access” to their services.

In 2011, after agencies demonstrated varying degrees of progress on language accessibility, DOJ issued a memorandum renewing the federal government’s commitment to language access. That memo asked agencies to update their language access plans to comply with Executive Order 13166. These plans are available on LEP.gov, but some have not been updated since 2012.

We ask that you issue a similar memorandum asking all federal agencies to submit updated language access plans to the DOJ’s Federal Coordination and Compliance Section within one year. Plans should indicate how agencies will make their materials available online in as many languages ​​as possible. Using the recently released guidance “Improving Access to Public Websites and Digital Services for People with Limited English Proficiency (LEP),” developed by the Title VI Interagency Task Force, agencies should audit their sites web and their digital services to ensure that all vital information (and directions to access that information) is accessible to LEP people. For example, agencies should confirm that their websites contain multilingual package inserts informing LEP individuals of the availability of language assistance services. Plans should also include information on how agencies will educate nonprofits, businesses, and local government entities about the existence of translated materials to ensure they reach LEP populations.

With new census data at hand to allow agencies to better understand the demographics of the populations they currently serve and changing technology, now is the time to uphold our nation’s commitment to language access. We respectfully request that you respond to our request by February 25, 2022.

Truly,



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