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CPD In the News

| Expanding Opportunity in Suffolk County, Building an Immigrant Justice Initiative

Lingo still a barrier to relief

Times Union – August 7, 2013, by Jimmy Vielkind - Immigrant advocacy groups say it remains difficult to get access to government services in languages other than English — nearly two years after Gov. Andrew Cuomo decreed that written and oral interpretation would be available the state’s six most-spoken foreign languages.

Cuomo signed an executive order that took effect last October mandating state officials to offer language assistance for speakers of Spanish, French, Italian, French Creole, Russian and Chinese. But the order’s scope was necessarily limited to state agencies, even though state-funded services like food stamps, driver’s licenses and unemployment benefits are administered by New York City or other counties.

The groups — including Make the Road New York, the Center for Popular Democracy and the Center for the Elimination of Minority Health Disparities at the University at Albany — visited government offices and surveyed people with limited English proficiency to develop a measure of compliance. In a report released earlier this week, they found that less than half the people who needed language assistance were able to receive it.

According to Nisha Agarwal, deputy director of the Center for Popular Democracy, the survey found 63 percent of citizens using state-operated facilities that are explicitly covered by the order were not successful in their quest to gain language assistance.

“The governor’s team has been very engaged on implementation, and we’re sympathetic to the challenges of getting an entire state apparatus to change,” said Agarwal. “That said, the results are by no means satisfactory, and we were quite disappointed that the state took the position that county-run agencies for state services were not within the ambit of the order. We feel it’s a pretty big gap.”

The Cuomo administration responded by saying that all covered state agencies are in compliance with this executive order

“This report paints an inaccurate picture of reality by relying on visits to county-run agencies that by law fall outside the executive order,” said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi. “Everyone should have the same access to their government, and we encourage counties to follow the state’s lead.”