Translation Woes: Language Barriers at New York City’s Human Resources Administration

Amy Taylor and Dimple Abichandani, Legal Services for New York City


In New York, Limited English Proficiency (“LEP”) communities are growing at a rapid pace. The report observes that nearly 50 percent of New Yorkers do not speak English at home. Language access at agencies providing vital public benefits is of paramount importance as LEP individuals are more likely to need these public services. Notwithstanding Federal, State, and Local laws mandating Human Resource Administration (“HRA”) to afford LEP individuals meaningful access, the report documents systemic and pervasive inadequacy in the language access services provided by the 69 HRA centers surveyed.

HRA includes Medicaid, Food Stamps and Public Assistance centers. In June and July 2007, Legal Services for New York (“LSNY”) surveyed the 69 HRA offices throughout New York (“NY”). The survey documented the center’s compliance with language access laws in three principal areas:

  1. clearly advertise provision of free interpreter services;
  2. written translation services for the six most common foreign languages encountered; and
  3. provision of interpreter or bilingual staff to talk with LEP individual.

The survey results suggest scant observance of language access laws by HRA. 26 percent of LEP individuals that spoke either of the two most common foreign languages in the area experienced undue delay in receiving language assistance, as there were no interpretation services readily available. A mere 18 HRA centers complied with all three principal areas surveyed. “[N]one of the Medicaid offices were in compliance with the three measures that were surveyed.” Compliance with the three principal areas surveyed varied across New York boroughs with the most compliance occurring in Manhattan and the least in Queens and Staten Island.

The report concludes with recommendations. The identified problem is that of enforcement. “HRA must design a system that holds each center accountable for its compliance with language policies and procedures.” The recommendations made also concern monitoring and training.

To be sure, LEP individuals have recourse to an online Title VI complaint generator. The LEP Complaint Resource Center requires individuals to set up an online account and through this medium individuals can identify agencies that are not satisfying their language access obligations. 


The purpose of the report is to highlight the shortfall in the provision of language services by Human Resources Administration; an agency responsible for providing a vital public function. 

Click, "Go to Website" below to access the full report.