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Field Ops Memo 2008-16: Department Interpreter Services Enhancements

Date: 
04/01/2008
Author: 
DTA

After many months of hard work, DTA just issued important guidance regarding the its federal obligations to provide interpreter services to limited English proficient (LEP) client! This document and the policies therein are the result of a collaborative effort of the LEP Working Group including staff from DTA, MLRI, GLBS, MIRA Coalition, Project Bread and ORI. Kudos to the Patrick Administration for moving ahead on this critical issue!

Attached is a copy of Field Operations Memo 2008-16, dated 4-1-08. This guidance obsoletes earlier LEP instructions, notably FO Memo 2005-34.

Background: DTA has had longstanding instructions requiring workers to provide interpreter services, in accordance with the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (42 USC 2000 d), and a 1974 US Supreme Court decision (Lau v Nichols) confirming that national origin discrimination includes discrimination based on a person's inability to speak, read or write English. However, despite many efforts over the years to enforce this obligation, advocates and community groups - as well as DTA workers - found the in-house DTA protocol and limited bilingual staff resources made it virtually impossible to do so. DTA workers were required to get supervisory and Central Office sign off to schedule an interpreter. The community based "contracted interpreters" were limited in availability and only did in-person interviews at the DTA office - with a minimum 72 hours notice. Sometimes the interpreters did not show up or showed up late. And DTA did not allow contracted interpreters to do phone interviews or be used for unscheduled client/worker phone and in-person communications.

Many LEP clients complained they had to go in person to the DTA office and wait significant time to talk with a bilingual staffer or in-house interpreter, and then told to come back once a contracted interpreter was approved and scheduled. Few LEP clients applying for food stamps were given the option to waive the face-face interviews even though they met the waiver criteria, unless their assigned worker happened to be bilingual. Other LEP clients uncomfortably relied on children, family members or friends who were either not competent interpreters or with whom the client might not want to share personal information. With the exception of clients lucky to have bilingual DTA workers and/or DTA offices with avaliable in-house interpreters, many LEP clients simply did not get federally required interpreter services.

Highlights of the new guidance: Thanks to Commissioner Kehoe and her staff, we have terrific LEP guidance addressing many of these issues! Here are some highlights (with MLRI descriptions):

  • DTA staff are instructed to use the new Telelanguage line (Qwest) without supervisory sign-off. If a worker needs an interpreter, they call Qwest. If an LEP client initiates the call, the worker uses their three-way calling capacity - while the client is on the line - to reach an interpreter! This is a huge change in protocol!
  • LEP clients who walk in must not be turned away or told to come back; LEP clients who phone call should not be told to come to the office. The DTA receptionist/switchboard staff is authorized and directed to access the Qwest line if they need to determine the client's language and nature of the problem; and/or forward the call with the Qwest interpreter to a DTA worker.
  • Clients who bring or call with an adult intending to interpret must still be advised of the right to free interpreter services. Children age 12 and under cannot be used for any interpreting purposes, period! Children over age 12 may only interpret to schedule an appointment.
  • Workers are reminded that clients who have some English language ability may nonetheless need an interpreter to fully understand DTA terms, legal rights and penalties - and thus they must access a bilingual staffer or Qwest line where the worker believes a professional interpreter is necessary.
  • LEP clients have the right to refuse the use of a particular bilingual worker or contracted interpreter if uncomfortable with him or her for cultural or personal reasons,
  • Qwest is the back up system if a contracted interpreter does not show up for an interview. The client should not be sent away and told to reschedule for lack of an interpreter.
  • A FS applicant who requests a hardship waiver of the FS interview must be contacted by mail and scheduled for a phone appointment using Qwest if no in-house interpreter is available. LEP clients cannot be required to conduct business in person if otherwise eligible to conduct business by phone.

These are just a few of the highlights! Please review the attached Field Operations Memo for a complete description of the protocol.

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