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Guidance to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Limited English Proficient Persons

AGENCY: Health and Human Services, HHS.

ACTION: Policy guidance document.

SUMMARY: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) publishes revised Guidance to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Limited English Proficient Persons ("Revised HHS LEP Guidance"). This revised HHS LEP Guidance is issued pursuant to Executive Order 13166. HHS is seeking comment on the revised HHS LEP Guidance for a 120-day period ending on January 6, 2004.

DATES: This Guidance is effective immediately. Comments must be submitted on or before January 6, 2004. HHS will review all comments and will determine if modifications to the Guidance are necessary. This Guidance supplants existing guidance on the same subject originally published at 65 FR 52762 (August 30, 2000).

ADDRESSES: Comments should be addressed to Deeana Jang with "Attention: LEP Comments," and should be sent to 200 Independence Avenue, SW, Room 506F, Washington, DC 20201. Comments may also be submitted by e-mail at LEP.comments@hhs.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Onelio Lopez at the Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence Avenue, SW, Room 506F, Washington, DC 20201, addressed with "Attention: LEP Comments;" telephone 202-205-0192; TDD: toll-free 1- 800-537-7697. Arrangements to receive the policy in an alternative format may be made by contacting the named individual.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is publishing revised "Guidance to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Limited English Proficient Persons" ("Revised HHS LEP Guidance"). This guidance was originally published on August 30, 2000, and included a 60-day comment period. See 65 FR 52762. This original guidance was republished for additional comment on February 1, 2002, pursuant to a memorandum issued by the United States Department of Justice on October 26, 2001. See 67 FR 4968.

On March 14, 2002, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a Report to Congress entitled "Assessment of the Total Benefits and Costs of Implementing Executive Order No. 13166: Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency." Among other things, the Report recommended the adoption of uniform guidance across all federal agencies, with flexibility to permit tailoring to each agency's specific recipients. Consistent with this OMB recommendation, DOJ published LEP Guidance for DOJ recipients, which was drafted and organized to also function as a model for similar guidance documents by other Federal grant-making agencies. See 67 FR 41455 (June 18, 2002).

This revised HHS LEP Guidance reflects consideration of the comments received and the subsequent guidance of DOJ. HHS welcomes comments from the public on the revised guidance document, and has announced the extended comment period to encourage comment from the public and from recipients regarding experience in applying this revised guidance. Following the comment period, HHS will evaluate whether further revisions to the guidance are necessary or appropriate.

The text of the guidance appears below. Appendix A to the guidance is a series of questions and answers that provides a useful summary of a number of the major aspects of the guidance.

It has been determined that this revised HHS LEP Guidance does not constitute a regulation subject to the rulemaking requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 553, and is not subject to Executive Order 12866 (Regulatory Review and Planning, September 30, 1993).

Dated: August 4, 2003.
Richard M. Campanelli,
Director, Office for Civil Rights.

I. Background and Legal History

Section 601 of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d, provides that no person shall "on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." Section 602 authorizes and directs federal agencies that are empowered to extend federal financial assistance to any program or activity "to effectuate the provisions of [section 601] * * * by issuing rules, regulations, or orders of general applicability." 42 U.S.C. 2000d-1.

Department of Health and Human Services regulations promulgated pursuant to section 602 forbid recipients from "utiliz[ing] criteria or methods of administration which have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, or national origin, or have the effect of defeating or substantially impairing accomplishment of the objectives of the program with respect to individuals of a particular race, color, or national origin." 45 CFR 80.3(b)(2).

The Supreme Court, in Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974), interpreted regulations promulgated by the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HHS's predecessor), 45 CFR 80.3(b)(2), to hold that Title VI prohibits conduct that has a disproportionate effect on LEP persons because such conduct constitutes national-origin discrimination. In Lau, a San Francisco school district that had a significant number of non-English speaking students of Chinese origin was required to take reasonable steps to provide them with a meaningful opportunity to participate in federally funded educational programs.

On August 11, 2000, Executive Order 13166 was issued. "Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency," 65 FR 50121 (August 16, 2000). Under that order, every federal agency that provides financial assistance to non-federal entities must publish guidance on how their recipients can provide meaningful access to LEP persons and thus comply with Title VI regulations forbidding funding recipients from "restrict[ing] an individual in any way in the enjoyment of any advantage or privilege enjoyed by others receiving any service, financial aid, or other benefit under the program" or from "utiliz[ing] criteria or methods of administration which have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, or national origin, or have the effect of defeating or substantially impairing accomplishment of the objectives of the program as respects individuals of a particular race, color, or national origin."

On that same day, the Department of Justice ("DOJ") issued a general guidance document addressed to "Executive Agency Civil Rights Officers" setting forth general principles for agencies to apply in developing guidance documents for recipients pursuant to the Executive Order. "Enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 National Origin Discrimination Against Persons With Limited English Proficiency," 65 FR 50123 (August 16, 2000) ("DOJ LEP Federal Guidance").

Subsequently, federal agencies raised questions regarding the requirements of the Executive Order, especially in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275 (2001). On October 26, 2001, Ralph F. Boyd, Jr., Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, issued a memorandum for "Heads of Departments and Agencies, General Counsels and Civil Rights Directors." This memorandum clarified and reaffirmed the DOJ LEP guidance for recipients of DOJ federal financial assistance in light of Sandoval.(1) The Assistant Attorney General stated that because Sandoval did not invalidate any Title VI regulations that proscribe conduct that has a disparate impact on covered groups--the types of regulations that form the legal basis for the part of Executive Order 13166 that applies to federally assisted programs and activities--the Executive Order remains in force.

(1) The memorandum noted that some commentators had interpreted Sandoval as impliedly striking down the disparate-impact regulations promulgated under Title VI that form the basis for the part of Executive Order 13166 that applies to federally assisted programs and activities. See, e.g., Sandoval, 532 U.S. at 286, 286 n.6 ("[W]e assume for purposes of this decision that section 602 confers the authority to promulgate disparate-impact regulations; . . . We cannot help observing, however, how strange it is to say that disparate-impact regulations are 'inspired by, at the service of, and inseparably intertwined with Sec. 601 * * * when Sec. 601 permits the very behavior that the regulations forbid."). The memorandum, however, made clear that DOJ disagreed with the commentators' interpretation. DOJ stated that Sandoval holds principally that there is no private right of action to enforce Title VI disparate-impact regulations. It did not address the validity of those regulations or Executive Order 13166, or otherwise limit the authority and responsibility of federal grant agencies to enforce their own implementing regulations.

Consistent with Executive Order 13166, HHS developed its own guidance document for recipients and initially issued it on August 30, 2000. "Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Policy Guidance on the Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination As It Affects Persons With Limited English Proficiency," 65 FR 52762 (August 30, 2000) ("HHS Guidance"). Following the instructions in the October 26, 2001 memorandum from Ralph F. Boyd, Jr., the Department republished, on February 1, 2002, its existing guidance document for additional public comment. "Office for Civil Rights; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Policy Guidance on the Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination As It Affects Persons With Limited English Proficiency," 67 FR 4968 (February 1, 2002).

II. Revised HHS LEP Guidance

Following republication of our guidance in February 2002, the Department received nearly 200 public comments. Most comments were in full support of the principles behind the HHS Guidance, and a number supported maintaining the guidance without change. While the comments reflected recognition that effective communication is critical for necessary health and human services, many commentors raised serious concerns about coverage, compliance costs, and use of family and friends as interpreters. In addition, many providers of services requested assistance from the Office for Civil Rights on how to comply with both general and specific provisions of the guidance.

On July 8, 2002, Assistant Attorney General Boyd issued a memorandum expressing the need for consistency across federal agency LEP guidance documents. Specifically, he requested that the Department (and all other affected agencies) use the DOJ LEP guidance (published at 67 FR 41455, June 18, 2002) as a model, and revise and republish the HHS guidance based on that model for public comment.

The DOJ's role under Executive Order 13166 is unique. The Executive Order charges DOJ with responsibility for providing LEP Guidance to other Federal agencies and for ensuring consistency among each agency- specific guidance. DOJ's guidance stated the following principles. "Consistency among Departments of the federal government is particularly important. Inconsistency or contradictory guidance could confuse recipients of federal funds and needlessly increase costs without rendering the meaningful access for LEP persons that this Guidance is designed to address. As with most government initiatives, this requires balancing several principles. While this Guidance discusses that balance in some detail, it is important to note the basic principles behind that balance. First, we must ensure that federally assisted programs aimed at the American public do not leave some behind simply because they face challenges communicating in English.

This is of particular importance because, in many cases, LEP individuals form a substantial portion of those encountered in federally assisted programs. Second, we must achieve this goal while finding constructive methods to reduce the costs of LEP requirements on small businesses, small local governments, or small non-profits that receive federal financial assistance."

HHS believes that the DOJ model guidance responds to the important issues raised in comments on the HHS document published in February, and the Department is confident that the DOJ LEP Guidance serves as an appropriate model for HHS to adopt. The Department notes that it has made certain modifications for purposes of clarity and organization, and a few additional modifications to accommodate particular programmatic needs and purposes.

There are many productive steps that the federal government, either collectively or as individual agencies, can take to help recipients reduce the costs of language services without sacrificing meaningful access for LEP persons. Without these steps, certain smaller recipients of Federal financial assistance may well choose not to participate in federally assisted programs, threatening the critical functions that the programs strive to provide. To that end, the Department plans to continue to provide assistance and guidance in this important area. In addition, HHS plans to work with representatives of state health and social service agencies, hospital associations, medical and dental associations, managed care organizations, and LEP persons to identify and share model plans, examples of best practices, and cost-saving approaches. Moreover, HHS intends to explore how language assistance measures, resources and cost-containment approaches developed with respect to its own federally conducted programs and activities can be effectively shared or otherwise made available to recipients, particularly small businesses, small local governments, and small non- profits. An interagency working group on LEP has developed a Web site, http://www.lep.gov, to assist in disseminating this information to recipients, federal agencies, and the communities being served.

As discussed earlier, in certain circumstances, the failure to ensure that LEP persons can effectively participate in, or benefit from, federally-assisted programs and activities may violate the prohibition under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d, and the Title VI regulations against national origin discrimination. Specifically, the failure of a recipient of Federal financial assistance from HHS to take reasonable steps to provide LEP persons with meaningful opportunity to participate in HHS-funded programs may constitute a violation of Title VI and HHS's implementing regulations. The purpose of this policy guidance is to assist recipients in fulfilling their responsibilities to provide meaningful access to LEP persons under existing law. This policy guidance clarifies existing legal requirements for LEP persons by providing a description of the factors recipients should consider in fulfilling their responsibilities to LEP persons.(2) These are the same criteria HHS will use in evaluating whether recipients are in compliance with Title VI and the Title VI regulations.

(2) The policy guidance is not a regulation but rather a guide. Title VI and its implementing regulations require that recipients take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access by LEP persons. This guidance provides an analytical framework that recipients may use to determine how best to comply with statutory and regulatory obligations to provide meaningful access to the benefits, services, information, and other important portions of their programs and activities for individuals who are limited English proficient.

III. Who Is Covered?

Department of Health and Human Services regulations, 45 CFR 80.3(b)(2), require all recipients of federal financial assistance from HHS to provide meaningful access to LEP persons.(3) Federal financial assistance includes grants, training, use of equipment, donations of surplus property, and other assistance.

(3) Pursuant to Executive Order 13166, the meaningful access requirement of the Title VI regulations and the four-factor analysis set forth in the DOJ LEP Guidance are to apply additionally to the programs and activities of federal agencies, including HHS.

Recipients of HHS assistance may include, for example:

  • Hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, and managed care organizations.
  • Universities and other entities with health or social service research programs.
  • State, county, and local health agencies.
  • State Medicaid agencies.
  • State, county and local welfare agencies.
  • Programs for families, youth, and children.
  • Head Start programs.
  • Public and private contractors, subcontractors and vendors.
  • Physicians and other providers who receive Federal financial assistance from HHS.

Recipients of HHS assistance do not include, for example, providers who only receive Medicare Part B payments.(4)

(4) HHS's Title VI regulations do not apply to (i) Any federal financial assistance by way of insurance or guaranty contracts, (ii) the use of any assistance by any individual who is the ultimate beneficiary under any program which receives federal financial assistance, and (iii) any employment practice, under any such program, or any employer, employment agency, or labor organization, except as otherwise described in the Title VI regulations. 45 CFR 80.2.

Subrecipients likewise are covered when federal funds are passed through from one recipient to a subrecipient.

Coverage extends to a recipient's entire program or activity, i.e., to all parts of a recipient's operations. This is true even if only one part of the recipient receives the federal assistance.(5)

(5) However, if a federal agency were to decide to terminate federal funds based on noncompliance with Title VI or its implementing regulations, only funds directed to the particular program or activity that is out of compliance could be terminated. 42 U.S.C. 2000d-1.

Example: HHS provides assistance to a state department of health to provide immunizations for children. All of the operations of the entire state department of health--not just the particular immunization programs--are covered.

Finally, some recipients operate in jurisdictions in which English has been declared the official language. Nonetheless, these recipients continue to be subject to federal non-discrimination requirements, including those applicable to the provision of federally assisted services to persons with limited English proficiency.

IV. Who Is a Limited English Proficient Individual?

Individuals who do not speak English as their primary language and who have a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English may be limited English proficient, or "LEP," and may be eligible to receive language assistance with respect to a particular type of service, benefit, or encounter.

Examples of populations likely to include LEP persons who are encountered and/or served by HHS recipients and should be considered when planning language services may include such as those:

  • Persons seeking Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and other social services.
  • Persons seeking health and health-related services.
  • Community members seeking to participate in health promotion or awareness activities.
  • Persons who encounter the public health system.
  • Parents and legal guardians of minors eligible for coverage concerning such programs.

V. How Does a Recipient Determine the Extent of Its Obligation To Provide LEP Services?

Recipients are required to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to their programs and activities by LEP persons. While designed to be a flexible and fact-dependent standard, the starting point is an individualized assessment that balances the following four factors: (1) The number or proportion of LEP persons eligible to be served or likely to be encountered by the program or grantee; (2) the frequency with which LEP individuals come in contact with the program; (3) the nature and importance of the program, activity, or service provided by the program to people's lives; and (4) the resources available to the grantee/recipient and costs. As indicated above, the intent of this guidance is to suggest a balance that ensures meaningful access by LEP persons to critical services while not imposing undue burdens on small business, small local governments, or small nonprofits.

After applying the above four-factor analysis, a recipient may conclude that different language assistance measures are sufficient for the different types of programs or activities in which it engages, or, in fact, that, in certain circumstances, recipient-provided language services are not necessary. (As discussed below, recipients may want to consider documenting their application of the four-factor test to the services they provide.) For instance, some of a recipient's activities will be more important than others and/or have greater impact on or contact with LEP persons, and thus may require more in the way of language assistance. The flexibility that recipients have in addressing the needs of the LEP populations they serve does not diminish, and should not be used to minimize, the obligation that those needs be addressed. HHS recipients should apply the following four factors to the various kinds of contacts that they have with the public to assess language needs and decide what reasonable steps, if any, they should take to ensure meaningful access for LEP persons.

(1) The Number or Proportion of LEP Persons Served or Encountered in the Eligible Service Population

One factor in determining what language services recipients should provide is the number or proportion of LEP persons from a particular language group served or encountered in the eligible service population. The greater the number or proportion of these LEP persons, the more likely language services are needed. Ordinarily, persons "eligible to be served, or likely to be directly affected, by" a recipient's program or activity are those who are served or encountered in the eligible service population. This population will be program- specific, and includes persons who are in the geographic area that has been approved by a federal grant agency as the recipient's service area. However, where, for instance, a particular office of the county or city health department serves a large LEP population, the appropriate service area is most likely that office, and not the entire population served by the department. Where no service area has previously been approved, the relevant service area may be that which is approved by state or local authorities or designated by the recipient itself, provided that these designations do not themselves discriminatorily exclude certain populations. When considering the number or proportion of LEP individuals in a service area, recipients should consider whether the minor children their programs serve have LEP parent(s) or guardian(s) with whom the recipient may need to interact.

Recipients should first examine their prior experiences with LEP encounters and determine the breadth and scope of language services that were needed. In certain circumstances, it is important in conducting this analysis to include language minority populations that are eligible for their programs or activities but may be underserved because of existing language barriers. Other data should be consulted when appropriate to refine or validate a recipient's prior experience, including the latest census data for the area served, data from school systems and from community organizations, and data from state and local governments.(6) Community agencies, school systems, religious organizations, legal aid entities, and others can often assist in identifying populations which may be underserved because of existing language barriers and who would benefit from the recipient's program, activity, or service, were language services provided.

(6) The focus of the analysis is on lack of English proficiency, not the ability to speak more than one language. Note that demographic data may indicate the most frequently spoken languages other than English and the percentage of people who speak that language who speak or understand English less than well. Some of the most commonly spoken languages other than English may be spoken by people who are also overwhelmingly proficient in English. Thus, they may not be the languages spoken most frequently by limited English proficient individuals. When using demographic data, it is important to focus in on the languages spoken by those who are not proficient in English.

(2) The Frequency With Which LEP Individuals Come in Contact With the Recipient's Program, Activity or Service

Recipients should assess, as accurately as possible, the frequency with which they have or should have contact with an LEP individual from different language groups seeking assistance. The more frequent the contact with a particular language group, the more likely that enhanced language services in that language are needed. The steps that are reasonable for a recipient that serves an LEP person on a one-time basis will be very different than those expected from a recipient that serves LEP persons daily. It is also advisable to consider the frequency of different types of language contacts. For example, frequent contacts with Spanish-speaking people who are LEP may require certain assistance in Spanish. Less frequent contact with different language groups may suggest a different and less intensified solution. If an LEP individual accesses a recipient's program, activity, or service on a daily basis, a recipient has greater duties than if an LEP individual's contact with the recipient's program, activity, or service is unpredictable or infrequent. But even recipients that serve LEP persons on an unpredictable or infrequent basis should use this balancing analysis to determine what to do if an LEP individual seeks services under the program in question. This plan need not be intricate. It may be as simple as being prepared to use one of the commercially available telephonic interpretation services to obtain immediate interpreter services. For example, a drug treatment program that encounters LEP persons on a daily basis most likely may have a greater obligation than a drug treatment program that encounters LEP persons sporadically. The obligations of both programs are greater than that of a drug treatment program which has never encountered a LEP individual where the service area includes few or no LEP individuals.

In applying this standard, certain recipients should take care to consider whether appropriate outreach to LEP persons could increase the frequency of contact with LEP language groups. For example, in areas where a community health center serves a large LEP population, outreach may be appropriate. On the other hand, for most individual physicians or dentists, outreach may not be necessary.

(3) The Nature and Importance of the Recipient's Program, Activity, or Service

The more important the recipient's activity, information, service, or program, or the greater the possible consequences of the contact to the LEP individuals, the more likely language services are needed. A recipient needs to determine whether denial or delay of access to services or information could have serious or even life-threatening implications for the LEP individual. Thus, the recipient should consider the importance and urgency of its program, activity, or service. If the activity is both important and urgent--such as the communication of information concerning emergency surgery and the obtaining of informed consent prior to such surgery--it is more likely that relatively immediate language services are needed. Alternatively, if the activity is important, but not urgent--such as the communication of information about, and obtaining informed consent for, elective surgery where delay will not have any adverse impact on the patient's health, or communication of information regarding admission to the hospital for tests where delay would not affect the patient's health-- it is more likely that language services are needed, but that such services can be delayed for a reasonable period of time. Finally, if an activity is neither important nor urgent--such as a general public tour of a facility--it is more likely that language services would not be needed. The obligation to communicate rights to a person whose benefits are being terminated or to provide medical services to an LEP person who is ill differ, for example, from those to provide medical care for a healthy LEP person or to provide recreational programming.

Decisions by a federal, state, or local entity to make an activity compulsory, such as job search programs in welfare to work programs, can serve as strong evidence of the program's importance.

(4) The Resources Available to the Recipient and Costs

A recipient's level of resources and the costs that would be imposed on it may have an impact on the nature of the steps it should take to comply with Title VI. Smaller recipients with more limited budgets are not expected to provide the same level of language services as larger recipients with larger budgets. In addition, reasonable steps may cease to be "reasonable" where the costs imposed substantially exceed the benefits.

Resource and cost issues, however, can often be reduced by technological advances; the sharing of language assistance materials and services among and between recipients, advocacy groups, and Federal grant agencies; and reasonable business practices. Where appropriate, training bilingual staff to act as interpreters and translators, information sharing through industry groups, telephonic and video conferencing interpretation services, pooling resources and standardizing documents to reduce translation needs, using qualified translators and interpreters to ensure that documents need not be "fixed" later and that inaccurate interpretations do not cause delay or other costs, centralizing interpreter and translator services to achieve economies of scale, or the formalized use of qualified community volunteers, for example, may help reduce costs.(7) Recipients should carefully explore the most cost-effective means of delivering competent and accurate language services before limiting services due to resource concerns. Large entities and those entities serving a significant number or proportion of LEP persons should ensure that their resource limitations are well-substantiated before using this factor as a reason to limit language assistance. Such recipients may find it useful to be able to articulate, through documentation or in some other reasonable manner, their process for determining that language services would be limited based on resources or costs.

(7) Recipients with limited resources may find that entering into a bulk telephonic interpretation service contract will prove cost effective.

 

* * * * *

 

This four-factor analysis necessarily implicates the "mix" of LEP services required. Recipients have two main ways to provide language services: Oral interpretation either in person or via telephone interpretation service (hereinafter "interpretation") and written translation (hereinafter "translation"). Oral interpretation can range from on-site interpreters for critical services provided to a high volume of LEP persons, to access through commercially-available telephonic interpretation services. Written translation, likewise, can range from translation of an entire document to translation of a short description of the document. In some cases, language services should be made available on an expedited basis while in others the LEP individual may be referred to another office of the recipient--or to another recipient--for language assistance. In certain circumstances, pursuant to an arrangement, where there is no discriminatory intent, the purpose is beneficial and will result in better access for LEP persons, it may be appropriate for a recipient to refer the LEP beneficiary to another recipient.

For example, if two physicians in the same field, one with a Spanish-speaking assistant and one with a Vietnamese-speaking assistant, practice in the same geographic area and have a custom/ practice of referring patients between each other, it may be appropriate for the first doctor to refer LEP Vietnamese patients to the second doctor and for the second doctor to refer LEP Spanish patients to the first doctor. In certain circumstances, a referral would not be appropriate: for example, a Korean speaking LEP woman comes to a battered women's shelter requesting assistance. Although the shelter has space, it has no arrangement to provide language assistance for LEP persons. Instead, as with all LEP persons, the staff only offer her a prepared list of three shelters in the neighborhood that generally provide language assistance. The staff does not check to assure that any of the three alternative shelters can actually provide the Korean language assistance she needs, or that any have space available for her.

The correct mix should be based on what is both necessary and reasonable in light of the four-factor analysis. In some circumstances, where the importance and nature of the activity, the number or proportion and frequency of contact with LEP persons may be high and the relative costs and resources needed to provide language services may be low, it may be appropriate for a recipient to hire bilingual staff or staff interpreters. In contrast, there may be circumstances where the importance and nature of the activity and number or proportion and frequency of contact with LEP persons may be low and the costs and resources needed to provide language services may be high, in which case language services for the particular activity may not be necessary. In situations that fall in between the two, it may be appropriate for recipients to use contract interpreters or telephone language lines to provide language services to LEP persons in contact with their program or activity. A hospital emergency room in a city with a significant Hmong population may need immediately available oral interpreters and may want to give serious consideration to hiring some bilingual staff. (Of course, many hospitals have already made such arrangements.) On the other hand, a physician's practice which encounters one LEP Hmong patient per month on a walk-in basis may want to use a telephone interpreter service. In contrast, a dentist in an almost exclusively English-speaking neighborhood who has rarely encountered a patient who did not speak English and has never encountered a Hmong-speaking patient may not need, pursuant solely to Title VI, to provide language services for a LEP Hmong individual who comes in for a dental cleaning.

VI. Selecting Language Assistance Services

Recipients have two main ways to provide language services: oral and written language services (interpretation and translation, respectively). Regardless of the type of language service provided, quality and accuracy of those services is critical to avoid serious consequences to the LEP person and to the recipient. Recipients have substantial flexibility in determining the appropriate mix.

A. Considerations Relating to Competency of Interpreters and Translators

Competence of Interpreters. Recipients should be aware that competency requires more than self-identification as bilingual. Some bilingual staff and community volunteers, for instance, may be able to communicate effectively in a different language when communicating information directly in that language, but not be competent to interpret in and out of English. Likewise, they may not be able to perform written translations.

Competency to interpret, however, does not necessarily mean formal certification as an interpreter, although certification is helpful. When using interpreters, recipients should take reasonable steps, given the circumstances, to assess whether the interpreters:

Demonstrate proficiency in and ability to communicate information accurately in both English and in the other language and identify and employ the appropriate mode of interpreting (e.g., consecutive, simultaneous, summarization, or sight translation);

To the extent necessary for communication between the recipient or its staff and the LEP person, have knowledge in both languages of any specialized terms or concepts peculiar to the recipient's program or activity and of any particularized vocabulary and phraseology used by the LEP person; (8)

(8) Many languages have "regionalisms," or differences in usage. For instance, a word that may be understood to mean something in Spanish for someone from Cuba may not be so understood by someone from Mexico. In addition, the interpreter should be aware when languages do not have an appropriate direct interpretation of certain terms and be able to provide the most appropriate interpretation. The interpreter should likely make the recipient aware of the issue, so that the interpreter and recipient can work to develop a consistent and appropriate set of descriptions of these terms in that language that can be used again, when appropriate.

Understand and follow confidentiality and impartiality rules to the same extent as the recipient employee for whom they are interpreting and/or to the extent their position requires;

Understand and adhere to their role as interpreters without deviating into other roles--such as counselor or legal advisor--where such deviation would be inappropriate (particularly in administrative hearings contexts).

Some recipients, such as some state agencies, may have additional self-imposed requirements for interpreters. Where individual rights depend on precise, complete, and accurate interpretation or translations, particularly in the context of administrative proceedings, the use of certified interpreters is strongly encouraged.(9)

(9) For those languages in which no formal accreditation or certification currently exists, certain recipients may want to consider a formal process for establishing the credentials of the interpreter, or assess whether a particular level of membership in a professional translation association can provide some indicator of professionalism.

While quality and accuracy of language services is critical, the quality and accuracy of language services is nonetheless part of the appropriate mix of LEP services required. The quality and accuracy of language services in a hospital emergency room, for example, should be as high as possible, given the circumstances, while the quality and accuracy of language services in other circumstances need not meet the same exacting standards.

Finally, when interpretation is needed and is reasonable, it should be provided in a timely manner. To be meaningfully effective, language assistance should be timely. While there is no single definition for "timely" applicable to all types of interactions at all times by all types of recipients, one clear guide is that the language assistance should be provided at a time and place that avoids the effective denial of the service, benefit, or right at issue or the imposition of an undue burden on or delay in important rights, benefits, or services to the LEP person. When the timeliness of services is important, and delay would result in the effective denial of a benefit, service, or right, language assistance likely cannot be unduly delayed. Conversely, where access to or exercise of a service, benefit, or right is not effectively precluded by a reasonable delay, language assistance can likely be delayed for a reasonable period.

For example, language assistance could likely not be delayed in a medical emergency, or when the time period in which an individual has to exercise certain rights is shortly to expire. On the other hand, when an LEP person is seeking a routine medical examination or seeks to apply for certain benefits and has an ample period of time to apply for those benefits, a recipient could likely delay the provision of language services by requesting the LEP person to schedule an appointment at a time during which the recipient would be able to have an appropriate interpreter available.

Competence of Translators. As with oral interpreters, translators of written documents should be competent. Many of the same considerations apply. However, the skill of translating is very different from the skill of interpreting; a person who is a competent interpreter may or may not be competent to translate.

Particularly where legal or other vital documents are being translated, competence can often be achieved by use of certified translators. As noted above, certification or accreditation may not always be possible or necessary. Competence can often be ensured by having a second, independent translator "check" the work of the primary translator. Alternatively, one translator can translate the document, and a second, independent translator could translate it back into English to check that the appropriate meaning has been conveyed. This is called "back translation."

Translators should understand the expected reading level of the audience and, where appropriate, have fundamental knowledge about the target language group's vocabulary and phraseology. Sometimes direct translation of materials results in a translation that is written at a much more difficult level than the English language version or has no relevant equivalent meaning.(10) Community organizations may be able to help consider whether a document is written at a good level for the audience. Likewise, consistency in the words and phrases used to translate terms of art, legal, or other technical concepts helps avoid confusion by LEP individuals and may reduce costs.

(10) For instance, there may be languages which do not have an appropriate direct translation of some specialized medical terms and the translator should be able to provide an appropriate translation. The translator should likely also make the recipient aware of this. Recipients can then work with translators to develop a consistent and appropriate set of descriptions of these terms in that language that can be used again, when appropriate. Recipients may find it more effective and less costly if they try to maintain consistency in the words and phrases used to translate terms of art and other technical concepts. Creating or using already-created glossaries of commonly used terms may be useful for LEP persons and translators and cost effective for the recipient. Providing translators with examples of previous translations of similar material by the recipient, other recipients, or federal agencies may be helpful.

While quality and accuracy of translation services is critical, the quality and accuracy of translation services is nonetheless part of the appropriate mix of LEP services required. For instance, to translate nonvital documents that have no legal or other consequence for LEP persons who rely on them, a recipient may use translators that are less skilled than the translators it uses to translate vital documents with legal or other information upon which reliance has important consequences. The permanent nature of written translations, however, imposes additional responsibility on the recipient to take reasonable steps to determine that the quality and accuracy of the translations permit meaningful access by LEP persons.

B. Oral Language Services (Interpretation)

Interpretation is the act of listening to something in one language (source language) and orally translating it into another language (target language). Where interpretation is needed and is reasonable, recipients should consider some or all of the following options for providing competent interpreters in a timely manner:

Hiring Bilingual Staff. When particular languages are encountered often, hiring bilingual staff offers one of the best, and often most economical, options. Recipients can, for example, fill public contact positions, such as social service eligibility workers or hospital emergency room receptionists/workers, with staff who are bilingual and competent to communicate directly with LEP persons in their language. If bilingual staff are also used to interpret between English speakers and LEP persons, or to orally interpret written documents from English into another language, they should be competent in the skill of interpreting. In addition, there may be times when the role of the bilingual employee may conflict with the role of an interpreter (for instance, a bilingual law clerk would probably not be able to perform effectively the role of a child support administrative hearing interpreter and law clerk at the same time, even if the law clerk were a qualified interpreter). Effective management strategies, including any appropriate adjustments in assignments and protocols for using bilingual staff, can ensure that bilingual staff are fully and appropriately utilized. When bilingual staff cannot meet all of the language service obligations of the recipient, the recipient should turn to other options.

Hiring Staff Interpreters. Hiring interpreters may be most helpful where there is a frequent need for interpreting services in one or more languages. Depending on the facts, sometimes it may be necessary and reasonable to provide on-site interpreters to provide accurate and meaningful communication with an LEP person.

Contracting for Interpreters. Contract interpreters may be a cost- effective option when there is no regular need for a particular language skill. In addition to commercial and other private providers, many community-based organizations and mutual assistance associations provide interpretation services for particular languages. Contracting with and providing training regarding the recipient's programs and processes to these organizations can be a cost-effective option for providing language services to LEP persons from those language groups.

Using Telephone Interpreter Lines. Telephone interpreter service lines often offer speedy interpreting assistance in many different languages. While telephone interpreters can be used in numerous situations, they may be particularly appropriate where the mode of communicating with an English proficient person would also be over the phone. Although telephonic interpretation services are useful in many situations, it is important to ensure that, when using such services, the interpreters used are competent to interpret any technical or legal terms specific to a particular program that may be important parts of the conversation. Nuances in language and non-verbal communication can often assist an interpreter and cannot be recognized over the phone. Video teleconferencing, if available, may sometimes help to resolve this issue where necessary. In addition, where documents are being discussed, it may be important to give telephonic interpreters adequate opportunity to review the document prior to the discussion and any logistical problems should be addressed.

Using Community Volunteers. In addition to consideration of bilingual staff, staff interpreters, or contract interpreters (either in-person or by telephone) as options to ensure meaningful access by LEP persons, use of recipient-coordinated community volunteers, working with, for instance, community-based organizations may provide a cost- effective supplemental language assistance strategy under appropriate circumstances. Because such volunteers may have other demands on their time, they may be more useful in providing language access for a recipient's less critical programs and activities where the provision of language services can reasonably be delayed. To the extent the recipient relies on community volunteers, it is often best to use volunteers who are trained in the information or services of the program and can communicate directly with LEP persons in their language. Just as with all interpreters, community volunteers used to interpret between English speakers and LEP persons, or to orally translate documents, should be competent in the skill of interpreting and knowledgeable about applicable confidentiality and impartiality rules. Recipients should consider formal arrangements with community- based organizations that provide volunteers to address these concerns and to help ensure that services are available more regularly.

Use of Family Members or Friends as Interpreters. Some LEP persons may feel more comfortable when a trusted family member or friend acts as an interpreter. However, when a recipient encounters an LEP person attempting to access its services, the recipient should make the LEP person aware that he or she has the option of having the recipient provide an interpreter for him/her without charge, or of using his/her own interpreter. Although recipients should not plan to rely on an LEP person's family members, friends, or other informal interpreters to provide meaningful access to important programs and activities, the recipient should, except as noted below, respect an LEP person's desire to use an interpreter of his or her own choosing (whether a professional interpreter, family member, or friend) in place of the free language services expressly offered by the recipient. However, a recipient may not require an LEP person to use a family member or friend as an interpreter.

In addition, in emergency circumstances that are not reasonably foreseeable, a recipient may not be able to offer free language services, and temporary use of family members or friends as interpreters may be necessary.

However, with proper planning and implementation, recipients should be able to avoid most such situations.

If the LEP person voluntarily chooses to provide his or her own interpreter, a recipient should consider whether making a record of that choice, and of the recipient's offer of assistance, is appropriate.

As with the use of other non-professional interpreters, the recipient may need to consider issues of competence, appropriateness, conflicts of interest, and confidentiality in determining whether it should respect the desire of the LEP person to use an interpreter of his or her own choosing. Recipients should take reasonable steps to ascertain that family, legal guardians, caretakers, and other informal interpreters are not only competent in the circumstances, but are also appropriate in light of the circumstances and subject matter of the program, service or activity, including protection of the recipient's own administrative or enforcement interest in accurate interpretation.

In some circumstances, family members (especially children) or friends may not be competent to provide quality and accurate interpretations. Issues of confidentiality, privacy, or conflict of interest may also arise. LEP individuals may feel uncomfortable revealing or describing sensitive, confidential, or potentially embarrassing medical, law enforcement (e.g., sexual or violent assaults), family, or financial information to a family member, friend, or member of the local community. In addition, such informal interpreters may have a personal connection to the LEP person or an undisclosed conflict of interest, such as the desire to protect themselves or another perpetrator in a domestic violence matter. For these reasons, where the LEP individual has declined the express offer of free language assistance and has chosen to use a family member, friend or other informal interpreter, if a recipient later determines that a family member or friend is not competent or appropriate, the recipient should provide competent interpreter services to the LEP person in place of or, if appropriate, as a supplement to the LEP individual's interpreter. For HHS recipient programs and activities, this is particularly true, for example, in administrative hearings, child or adult protective service investigations, situations in which life, health, safety, or access to important benefits and services are at stake, or when credibility and accuracy are important to protect an individual's rights and access to important services. Where precise, complete, and accurate interpretations or translations of information and/or testimony are critical, or where the competency of the LEP person's interpreter is not established, a recipient may want to consider providing its own, independent interpreter, even if an LEP person wants to use his or her own interpreter as well.

Extra caution should be exercised when the LEP person chooses to use a minor as the interpreter. While the LEP person's decision should be respected, there may be additional issues of competency, confidentiality, or conflict of interest when the choice involves using minor children as interpreters. The recipient should take reasonable steps to ascertain whether the LEP person's choice is voluntary, whether the LEP person is aware of the possible problems if the preferred interpreter is a minor child, and whether the LEP person knows that a competent interpreter could be provided by the recipient at no cost.

Again, while the use of a family member or friend may be appropriate, if that is the choice of the LEP person, the following are examples of where the recipient should provide an interpreter for the LEP individual:

  • A woman or child is brought to an emergency room and is seen by an emergency room doctor. The doctor notices the patient's injuries and determines that they are consistent with those seen with victims of abuse or neglect. In such a case, use of the spouse or a parent to interpret for the patient may raise serious issues of conflict of interest and may, thus, be inappropriate.
  • A man, accompanied by his wife, visits an eye doctor for an eye examination. The eye doctor offers him an interpreter, but he requests that his wife interpret for him. The eye doctor talks to the wife and determines that she is competent to interpret for her husband during the examination. The wife interprets for her spouse as the examination proceeds, but the doctor discovers that the husband has cataracts that must be removed through surgery. The eye doctor determines that the wife does not understand the terms he is using to explain the diagnosis and, thus, that she is not competent to continue to interpret for her husband. The eye doctor stops the examination and calls an interpreter for the husband. A family member may be appropriate to serve as an interpreter if preferred by the LEP person in situations where the service provided is of a routine nature such as a simple eye examination. However, in a case where the nature of the service becomes more complex, depending on the circumstances, the family member or friend may not be competent to interpret.

C. Written Language Services (Translation)

Translation is the replacement of a written text from one language (source language) into an equivalent written text in another language (target language).

What Documents Should be Translated? After applying the four-factor analysis, a recipient may determine that an effective LEP plan for its particular program or activity includes the translation of vital written materials into the language of each frequently-encountered LEP group eligible to be served and/or likely to be affected by the recipient's program.

Whether or not a document (or the information it solicits) is "vital" may depend upon the importance of the program, information, encounter, or service involved, and the consequence to the LEP person if the information in question is not provided accurately or in a timely manner. Where appropriate, recipients are encouraged to create a plan for consistently determining, over time and across their various activities, what documents are "vital" to the meaningful access of the LEP populations they serve.

Classifying a document as vital or non-vital is sometimes difficult, especially in the case of outreach materials like brochures or other information on rights and services. Awareness of rights or services is an important part of "meaningful access." Lack of awareness that a particular program, right, or service exists may effectively deny LEP individuals meaningful access. Thus, where a recipient is engaged in community outreach activities in furtherance of its activities, it should regularly assess the needs of the populations frequently encountered or affected by the program or activity to determine whether certain critical outreach materials should be translated. In determining what outreach materials may be most useful to translate, such recipients may want to consider consulting with appropriate community organizations.

Sometimes a document includes both vital and non-vital information. This may be the case when the document is very large. It may also be the case when the title and a phone number for obtaining more information on the contents of the document in frequently-encountered languages other than English is critical, but the document is sent out to the general public and cannot reasonably be translated into many languages. Thus, vital information may include, for instance, the provision of information in appropriate languages other than English regarding where a LEP person might obtain an interpretation or translation of the document.

Given the foregoing considerations, vital written materials could include, for example:

  • Consent and complaint forms.
  • Intake forms with the potential for important consequences.
  • Written notices of eligibility criteria, rights, denial, loss, or decreases in benefits or services, actions affecting parental custody or child support, and other hearings.
  • Notices advising LEP persons of free language assistance.
  • Written tests that do not assess English language competency, but test competency for a particular license, job, or skill for which knowing English is not required.
  • Applications to participate in a recipient's program or activity or to receive recipient benefits or services.

Nonvital written materials could include:

  • Hospital menus.
  • Third party documents, forms, or pamphlets distributed by a recipient as a public service.
  • For a non-governmental recipient, government documents and forms.
  • Large documents such as enrollment handbooks (although vital information contained in large documents may need to be translated).
  • General information about the program intended for informational purposes only.

Into What Languages Should Documents be Translated? The languages spoken by the LEP individuals with whom the recipient has contact determine the languages into which vital documents should be translated. A distinction should be made, however, between languages that are frequently encountered by a recipient and less commonly- encountered languages. Some recipients may serve communities in large cities or across the country. They regularly serve LEP persons who speak dozens and sometimes over 100 different languages. To translate all written materials into all of those languages is unrealistic. Although recent technological advances have made it easier for recipients to store and share translated documents, such an undertaking would incur substantial costs and require substantial resources. Nevertheless, well-substantiated claims of lack of resources to translate all vital documents into dozens of languages do not necessarily relieve the recipient of the obligation to translate those documents into at least several of the more frequently-encountered languages and to set benchmarks for continued translations into the remaining languages over time. As a result, the extent of the recipient's obligation to provide written translations of documents should be determined by the recipient on a case-by-case basis, looking at the totality of the circumstances in light of the four-factor analysis. Because translation is usually a one-time expense, consideration should be given to whether the up-front cost of translating a document (as opposed to oral interpretation) should be amortized over the likely lifespan of the document when applying this four-factor analysis.

Safe Harbor. Many recipients would like to ensure with greater certainty that they comply with their Title VI obligations to provide written translations in languages other than English. Paragraphs (a) and (b) outline the circumstances that can provide a "safe harbor" for recipients regarding the requirements for translation of written materials. A "safe harbor" means that if a recipient provides written translations under these circumstances, such action will be considered strong evidence of compliance with the recipient's written-translation obligations.

The failure to provide written translations under the circumstances outlined in paragraphs (a) and (b) does not mean there is non- compliance. Rather, they provide a common starting point for recipients to consider whether and at what point the importance of the service, benefit, or activity involved; the nature of the information sought; and the number or proportion of LEP persons served call for written translations of commonly-used forms into frequently-encountered languages other than English. Thus, these paragraphs merely provide a guide for recipients that would like greater certainty of compliance than can be provided by a fact-intensive, four-factor analysis.

Example: Even if the safe harbors are not used, if written translation of a certain document(s) would be so burdensome as to defeat the legitimate objectives of its program, the translation of the written materials is not necessary. Other ways of providing meaningful access, such as effective oral interpretation of certain vital documents, may be acceptable under such circumstances.

Safe Harbor. The following actions will be considered strong evidence of compliance with the recipient's written-translation obligations:

(a) The HHS recipient provides written translations of vital documents for each eligible LEP language group that constitutes five percent or 1,000, whichever is less, of the population of persons eligible to be served or likely to be affected or encountered. Translation of other documents, if needed, can be provided orally; or

(b) If there are fewer than 50 persons in a language group that reaches the five percent trigger in (a), the recipient does not translate vital written materials but provides written notice in the primary language of the LEP language group of the right to receive competent oral interpretation of those written materials, free of cost.

These safe harbor provisions apply to the translation of written documents only. They do not affect the requirement to provide meaningful access to LEP individuals through competent oral interpreters where an application of the four factor test leads to the determination that oral language services are needed and are reasonable. Conversely, oral interpretation of documents may not substitute for translation of vital written documents. For example, oral interpretation of the rules of a half-way house or residential treatment center may not substitute for translation of a short document containing the rules of the half-way house or residential treatment center and the consequences of violating those rules.

VII. Elements of Effective Plan on Language Assistance for LEP Persons

If, after completing the four-factor analysis, a recipient determines that it should provide language assistance services, a recipient may develop an implementation plan to address the identified needs of the LEP populations it serves. Such recipients have considerable flexibility in developing this plan. The development and maintenance of a periodically updated written plan on language assistance for LEP persons ("LEP plan") for use by a recipient's employees who serve or interact with the public could be an appropriate and cost-effective means of documenting compliance with Title VI and providing a framework for the provision of timely and reasonable language assistance. Moreover, such written plans may provide additional benefits to a recipient's managers in the areas of training, administration, planning, and budgeting. These benefits may lead recipients to document in a written LEP plan their language assistance services, and how staff and LEP persons can access those services. Despite these benefits, certain HHS recipients, such as recipients serving very few LEP persons and recipients with very limited resources, may choose not to develop a written LEP plan. However, the absence of a written LEP plan does not obviate the underlying Title VI obligation to ensure meaningful access by LEP persons to a recipient's program or activities. Accordingly, in the event that a recipient elects not to develop a written plan, it may want to consider alternative and reasonable ways to articulate how it is providing meaningful access in compliance with Title VI. Entities having significant contact with LEP persons, such as schools, religious organizations, community groups, and groups working with new immigrants can be very helpful in providing important input into this planning process from the beginning.

For the recipient who decides to develop a written implementation plan, the following five steps may be helpful in designing such a plan; they are typically part of effective implementation plans.

(1) Identifying LEP Individuals Who Need Language Assistance

The first two factors in the four-factor analysis require an assessment of the number or proportion of LEP individuals eligible to be served or encountered and the frequency of encounters. Similarly, this step of an LEP implementation plan requires recipients to identify LEP persons with whom it has contact.

One way to determine the language of communication is to use language identification cards (or "I speak cards"), which invite LEP persons to identify their language needs to staff. Such cards, for instance, might say "I speak Spanish" in both Spanish and English, "I speak Vietnamese" in both English and Vietnamese, etc. To reduce costs of compliance, the federal government has made a set of these cards available on the Internet. The Census Bureau "I speak card" can be found and downloaded at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/cor/13166.htm, and accessed at http://www.lep.gov. When records are normally kept of past interactions with members of the public, the language of the LEP person can be included as part of the record. In addition to helping employees identify the language of LEP persons they encounter, this process will help in future applications of the first two factors of the four-factor analysis. In addition, posting notices in commonly encountered languages notifying LEP persons of language assistance will encourage them to identify themselves.

(2) Language Assistance Measures

An effective LEP plan would likely include information about the ways in which language assistance will be provided. For instance, recipients may want to include information on at least the following:

  • Types of language services available.
  • How staff can obtain those services.
  • How to respond to LEP callers.
  • How to respond to written communications from LEP persons.
  • How to respond to LEP individuals who have in-person contact with recipient staff.
  • How to ensure competency of interpreters and translation services.

(3) Training Staff

An effective LEP plan would likely include a process for identifying staff who need to be trained regarding the recipient's LEP plan, a process for training them, and the identification of the outcomes of the training. Staff should know their obligations to provide meaningful access to information and services for LEP persons. An effective LEP plan may include training to ensure that:

  • Staff know about LEP policies and procedures.
  • Staff having contact with the public are trained to work effectively with in-person and telephone interpreters.

Recipients may want to include this training as part of the orientation for new employees. It may be important to take reasonable steps to see to it that all employees in public contact positions are properly trained. Recipients have flexibility in deciding the manner in which the training is provided. The more frequent the contact with LEP persons, the greater the need will be for in-depth training. Staff with little or no contact with LEP persons may only have to be aware of an LEP plan. However, management staff, even if they do not interact regularly with LEP persons, should be fully aware of and understand the plan so they can reinforce its importance and ensure its implementation by staff.

(4) Providing Notice to LEP Persons

An effective LEP plan would likely include a description of the process by which to provide notice of the services that are available to the LEP persons it serves or, to the extent that a service area exists, that reside in its service area and are eligible for services. Once a recipient has decided, based on the four factors, that it will provide language services, it may be important for the recipient to let LEP persons know that those services are available and that they are free of charge. Recipients should provide this notice in a language LEP persons will understand. Examples of notification that recipients may want to consider include:

  • Posting signs in intake areas and other entry points. When language assistance is needed to ensure meaningful access to information and services, it is important to provide notice in appropriate languages in intake areas or initial points of contact so that LEP persons can learn how to access those language services. This is particularly true in areas with high volumes of LEP persons seeking access to certain health, safety, or public benefits and services, or activities run by HHS recipients. For instance, signs in intake offices could state that free language assistance is available. The signs should be translated into the most common languages encountered. They should explain how to get the language help.(11)

(11) The Social Security Administration has made such signs available at http://www.ssa.gov/multilanguage/langlist1.htm, which also can be accessed at http://www.lep.gov. These signs could, for example, be modified for recipient use.

  • Stating in outreach documents that language services are available from the recipient. Announcements could be in, for instance, brochures, booklets, and in outreach and recruitment information. These statements should be translated into the most common languages and could be "tagged" onto the front of common documents.
  • Working with community-based organizations and other stakeholders to inform LEP individuals of the recipients' services, including the availability of language assistance services.
  • Using a telephone voice mail menu. The menu could be in the most common languages encountered, and provide information about available language assistance services and how to get them.
  • Including notices in local newspapers in languages other than English.
  • Providing notices on non-English-language radio and television stations about the available language assistance services and how to get them.
  • Presentations and/or notices at schools and religious organizations.

(5) Monitoring and Updating the LEP Plan

An effective LEP plan would likely include a process for a recipient to monitor its implementation of its plan and for updating its plan as necessary. For example, determining, on an ongoing basis, whether new documents, programs, services, and activities need to be made accessible for LEP individuals may be appropriate, and recipients may want to provide notice of any changes in services to the LEP public and to employees. In addition, changes in demographics, types of services, or other needs may require annual reevaluation of an LEP plan. Less frequent reevaluation may be more appropriate where demographics, services, and needs are more static. One good way to evaluate the LEP plan may be to seek feedback from the community.

In their reviews, recipients may want to consider assessing changes in:

  • Current LEP populations in service area or population affected or encountered.
  • Frequency of encounters with LEP language groups.
  • Nature and importance of activities to LEP persons.
  • Availability of resources, including technological advances and sources of additional resources, and the costs imposed.
  • Whether existing assistance is meeting the needs of LEP persons.
  • Whether staff knows and understands the LEP plan and how to implement it.
  • Whether identified sources for assistance are still available and viable.

In addition to these five elements, effective plans set clear goals and establish management accountability. Some recipients may also want to consider whether they should provide opportunities for community input and planning throughout the process.

VIII. Voluntary Compliance Effort

The goal for Title VI and Title VI regulatory enforcement is to achieve voluntary compliance. The requirement to provide meaningful access to LEP persons is enforced and implemented by the HHS Office for Civil Rights through the procedures identified in the Title VI regulations. These procedures include complaint investigations, compliance reviews, efforts to secure voluntary compliance, and technical assistance.

The Office for Civil Rights, and the entire Department, are committed to assisting recipients of HHS financial assistance in complying with their obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. HHS believes that, on the whole, its recipients genuinely desire to comply with their obligations, but that some may lack knowledge of what is required of them or information concerning the resources that are available to them that would assist in meeting their Title VI obligations. Accordingly, HHS is committed to engaging in outreach to its recipients and to being responsive to inquiries from its recipients. Through its Administration on Children and Families, Administration on Health Care Quality and Research, Administration on Aging, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Health Resources Services Administration, Office for Civil Rights, and Office of Minority Health, HHS provides a variety of practical technical assistance to recipients to assist them in serving LEP persons. This technical assistance includes translated forms and vital documents; training and information about best practices; and grants and model demonstration funds for LEP services. HHS also provides a variety of services for LEP persons who come in contact with the Department. These services include oral language assistance services such as language lines and interpreters, translation of written materials, and foreign language Web sites.

Further, HHS is committed to working with representatives of state and local health and social service agencies, organizations of such agencies, hospital associations, medical and dental associations and managed care organization to identify and share model plans, examples of best practices, cost-saving approaches, and information on other available resources, and to mobilize these organizations, to educate their members on these matters.

HHS continues to explore how it can share with its recipients language assistance measures, resources, cost-containment approaches, and other information and knowledge, developed with respect to its own federally conducted programs and activities, and welcomes suggestions and comments in this regard. The HHS Office for Civil Rights, in conjunction with other HHS components, through direct contact and its Web site at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr, will continue to provide technical assistance that assists HHS recipients in understanding and complying with their obligations under Title VI, and assists recipients and the public by identifying resources offered by the Office for Civil Rights and other HHS components that facilitate compliance with Title VI, with respect to LEP persons. This and other helpful information may also be accessed at http://www.lep.gov.

The Title VI regulations provide that HHS will investigate whenever it receives a complaint, report, or other information that alleges or indicates possible noncompliance with Title VI or its regulations. If the investigation results in a finding of compliance, HHS will inform the recipient in writing of this determination, including the basis for the determination. However, if a case is fully investigated and results in a finding of noncompliance, HHS must inform the recipient of the noncompliance through a Letter of Findings that sets out the areas of noncompliance and the steps that must be taken to correct the noncompliance. It must attempt to secure voluntary compliance through informal means. If the matter cannot be resolved informally, HHS must secure compliance through the termination of federal assistance after the HHS recipient has been given an opportunity for an administrative hearing and/or by referring the matter to DOJ to seek injunctive relief or pursue other enforcement proceedings. HHS engages in voluntary compliance efforts and provides technical assistance to recipients at all stages of an investigation. During these efforts, HHS proposes reasonable timetables for achieving compliance and consults with and assists recipients in exploring cost-effective ways of coming into compliance. In determining a recipient's compliance with the Title VI regulations, HHS's primary concern is to ensure that the recipient's policies and procedures provide meaningful access for LEP persons to the recipient's programs and activities.

While all recipients must work toward building systems that will ensure access for LEP individuals, HHS acknowledges that the implementation of a comprehensive system to serve LEP individuals is a process and that a system will evolve over time as it is implemented and periodically reevaluated. As recipients take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to federally assisted programs and activities for LEP persons, HHS will look favorably on intermediate steps recipients take that are consistent with this Guidance, and that, as part of a broader implementation plan or schedule, move their service delivery system toward providing full access to LEP persons. This does not excuse noncompliance with Title VI, but instead recognizes that full compliance in all areas of a recipient's activities and for all potential language minority groups may reasonably require a series of implementing actions over a period of time. However, in developing any phased implementation schedule, HHS recipients should ensure that the provision of appropriate assistance for significant LEP populations or with respect to activities having a significant impact on the health, safety, legal rights, or livelihood of beneficiaries is addressed first. Recipients are encouraged to document their efforts to provide LEP persons with meaningful access to federally assisted programs and activities.

Appendix A

Questions and Answers Regarding the Department of Health and Human Services Guidance to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding the Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Limited English Proficient Persons

1. Q. What is the purpose of the guidance on language access released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)?

A. The purpose of the Policy Guidance is to clarify to members of the public, and to providers of health and social services who receive Federal financial assistance from HHS, the responsibility of such providers to Limited English Proficient (LEP) persons, pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Among other things, this guidance clarifies existing legal requirements by providing a description of the factors providers of health and social services who receive Federal financial assistance from HHS should consider in determining and fulfilling their responsibilities to LEP persons under Title VI.

2. Q. What does the policy guidance do?

A. The policy guidance does the following:

  • Reiterates the principles of Title VI with respect to LEP persons.
  • Discusses the reasonable policies, procedures and other steps that recipients can take to ensure meaningful access to their program by LEP persons.
  • Clarifies that failure to take one or more of these steps does not necessarily mean noncompliance with Title VI.
  • Explains to recipients of Federal financial assistance that OCR will determine compliance on a case by case basis, in light of the following four factors: (1) The number or proportion of LEP persons eligible to be served or likely to be encountered by the program, activity or service provided by the recipient; (2) the frequency with which LEP individuals come in contact with the recipient's program, activity or service; (3) the nature and importance of the recipient's program, activity, or service; and (4) the resources available to the recipient and costs.
  • Provides that, based on these four factors, recipients with limited resources will not have the same compliance responsibilities applicable to recipients with greater resources. All recipients will have a great deal of flexibility in achieving compliance.
  • Provides that OCR will offer extensive technical assistance for recipients.

3. Q. Does the guidance impose new requirements on recipients?

A. No. Since its enactment, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance. Title VI requires that recipients take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to their programs and activities by LEP persons. Over the past three decades, OCR has conducted thousands of investigations and reviews involving language differences that affect the access of LEP persons to medical care and social services. This guidance synthesizes the legal requirements that OCR has been enforcing for over three decades.

4. Q. Who is covered by the guidance?

A. Covered entities include any state or local agency, private institution or organization, or any public or private individual that (1) Operates, provides or engages in health, or social service programs and activities, and (2) receives Federal financial assistance from HHS directly or through another recipient/covered entity. Examples of covered entities include but are not limited to the following entities, which may receive federal financial assistance: hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, managed care organizations, universities and other entities with health or social service research programs; state, county and local health agencies; state Medicaid agencies; state, county and local welfare agencies; federally-funded programs for families, youth and children; Head Start programs; public and private contractors, subcontractors and vendors; physicians; and other providers who receive Federal financial assistance from HHS.

5. Q. How does the guidance affect small practitioners and providers who are recipients of federal financial assistance?

A. Small practitioners and providers will have considerable flexibility in determining precisely how to fulfill their obligations to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access for persons with limited English proficiency. OCR will assess compliance on a case by case basis and will take into account the following factors: (1) The number or proportion of LEP persons eligible to be served or likely to be encountered by the recipient's program, activity or service; (2) the frequency with which LEP individuals come in contact with the program, activity or service; (3) the nature and importance of the program, activity, or service provided by the recipient; and (4) the resources available to the recipient and costs. There is no "one size fits all" solution for Title VI compliance with respect to LEP persons, and what constitutes "reasonable steps" for large providers may not be reasonable where small providers are concerned. Thus, smaller recipients with smaller budgets will not be expected to provide the same level of language services as larger recipients with larger budgets. OCR will continue to be available to provide technical assistance to HHS recipients, including sole practitioners and other small recipients, seeking to operate an effective language assistance program and to comply with Title VI.

6. Q. The guidance identifies some specific circumstances which OCR will consider to be strong evidence that a program is in compliance with its obligation under Title VI to provide written materials in languages other than English. Does this mean that a recipient/covered entity will be considered out of compliance with Title VI if its program does not fall within these circumstances?

A. No. The circumstances outlined in the guidance are intended to identify circumstances which amount to a "safe harbor" for recipients who desire greater certainty with respect to their obligations to provide written translations. This means that if a recipient provides written translations under these circumstances, such action will be considered strong evidence of compliance with the recipient's written-translation obligations. However, the failure to provide written translations under the circumstances outlined in the "safe harbor"does not mean there is non- compliance. Rather, the safe harbor provides a tool which recipients may use to consider whether the number or proportion of LEP persons served call for written translations of vital documents into frequently encountered languages other than English. However, even if the safe harbors are not used, if written translation of certain documents would be so financially burdensome as to defeat the legitimate objectives of its program, the translation of the written materials is not necessary. Other ways of providing meaningful access, such as effective oral interpretation of certain vital documents, might be acceptable under such circumstances when, upon application of the four factors, translation services are required.

7. Q. The guidance makes reference to "vital documents" and notes that, in certain circumstances, a recipient/covered entity may have to translate such documents into other languages. What is a vital document?

A. As clarified by the guidance, the extent of Title VI obligations will be evaluated based on a four-factor test including the nature or importance of the service. In this regard, the guidance points out that documents deemed "vital" to the access of LEP persons to programs and services may often have to be translated. Whether or not a document (or the information it contains or solicits) is "vital" may depend upon the importance of the program, information, encounter, or service involved, and the consequence to the LEP person if the information in question is not provided accurately or in a timely manner. Where appropriate, recipients are encouraged to create a plan for consistently determining, over time and across their various activities, what documents are "vital" to the meaningful access of the LEP populations they serve. Thus, vital documents could include, for instance, consent and complaint forms, intake forms with potential for important health consequences, written notices of eligibility criteria, rights, denial, loss, or decreases in benefits or services, actions affecting parental custody or child support, and other hearings, notices advising LEP persons of free language assistance, written tests that do not assess English language competency, but test competency for a particular license, job or skill for which knowing English is not required, or applications to participate in a recipient's program or activity or to receive recipient benefits or services.

8. Q. Will recipient/covered entities have to translate large documents such as managed care enrollment handbooks?

A. Not necessarily. Some large documents may contain no vital information, and others will contain vital information that will have to be translated. Again, the obligation to translate will depend on application of the four factors. In this context, vital information may include, for instance, the provision of information in appropriate languages other than English, or identifying where a LEP person might obtain an interpretation or translation of the document. However, depending on the circumstances, large documents such as enrollment handbooks may not need to be translated or may not need to be translated in their entirety.

9. Q. May an LEP person use a family member or friend as his or her interpreter?

A. Some LEP persons may feel more comfortable when a trusted family member or friend acts as an interpreter. When an LEP person attempts to access the services of a recipient of federal financial assistance, who upon application of the four factors is required to provide an interpreter, the recipient should make the LEP person aware that he or she has the option of having the recipient provide an interpreter for him/her without charge, or of using his/her own interpreter. Recipients should also consider the special circumstances discussed in the guidance that may affect whether a family member or friend should serve as an interpreter, such as whether the situation is an emergency, and concerns over competency, confidentiality, privacy, or conflict of interest.

10. Q. May a recipient/covered entity require a LEP person to use a family member or a friend as his or her interpreter?

A. No.

11. Q. How does low health literacy, non-literacy, non-written languages, blindness and deafness among LEP populations affect the responsibilities of federal fund recipients?

A. Effective communication in any language requires an understanding of the literacy levels of the eligible populations. However, where a LEP individual has a limited understanding of health matters or cannot read, access to the program is complicated by factors not generally directly related to national origin or language and thus is not a Title VI issue. Under these circumstances, a recipient should provide remedial health information to the same extent that it would provide such information to English-speakers. Similarly, a recipient should assist LEP individuals who cannot read in understanding written materials as it would non-literate English-speakers. A non-written language precludes the translation of documents, but does not affect the responsibility of the recipient to communicate the vital information contained in the document or to provide notice of the availability of oral translation. Of course, other law may be implicated in this context. For instance, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that federal fund recipients provide sign language and oral interpreters for people who have hearing impairments and provide materials in alternative formats such as in large print, braille or on tape for individuals with visual impairments; and the Americans with Disabilities Act imposes similar requirements on health and human service providers.

12. Q. What assistance is available to help to recipients who wish to come into compliance with Title VI?

A. For over three decades, OCR has provided substantial technical assistance to recipient/covered entities who are seeking to ensure that LEP persons can meaningfully access their programs or services. Our regional staff is prepared to work with recipients to help them meet their obligations under Title VI. As part of its technical assistance services, OCR can help identify best practices and successful strategies used by other federal fund recipients, identify sources of federal reimbursement for translation services, and point providers to other resources.

In addition, the entire Department is also committed to assisting recipients of HHS financial assistance in complying with their obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Through its Administration on Children and Families, Administration on Health Care Quality and Research, Administration on Aging, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Office for Civil Rights, Office of Minority Health and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, HHS provides a variety of practical technical assistance to recipients to assist them in serving LEP persons. This technical assistance includes translated forms and vital documents; training and information about best practices; and grants and model demonstration funds for LEP services. HHS believes that, on the whole, its recipients genuinely desire to comply with their obligations, and that increased understanding of compliance responsibilities and knowledge about cost-effective resources that are increasingly available to them, will assist recipients/covered entities in meeting Title VI obligations. Accordingly, HHS is committed to providing outreach to its recipients and to being responsive to queries from its recipients. It is also committed to working with representatives of state and local health and social service agencies, organizations of such agencies, hospital associations, medical and dental associations and managed care organizations to identify and share model plans, examples of best practices, cost-saving approaches, and information on other available resources, and to mobilize these organizations to educate their members on these matters. HHS will continue to promote best practices in language access and fund model demonstration programs in this area. The HHS Office for Civil Rights, in conjunction with other HHS components, will continue to provide technical assistance and outreach to HHS recipients to assist them in understanding and complying with their obligations under Title VI and to provide information to recipients and the public through its Web site at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr. LEP information and resources can also be found at http://www.lep.gov.

13. Q. How will OCR enforce compliance by recipient/covered entities with the LEP requirements of Title VI?

A. The goal for Title VI and Title VI regulatory enforcement is to achieve voluntary compliance. The requirement to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to LEP persons is enforced and implemented by OCR through the procedures identified in the Title VI regulations. These procedures include complaint investigations, compliance reviews, efforts to secure voluntary compliance, and technical assistance.

The Title VI regulations provide that OCR will investigate whenever it receives a complaint, report, or other information that alleges or indicates possible noncompliance with Title VI or its regulations. If the investigation results in a finding of compliance, OCR will inform the recipient in writing of this determination, including the basis for the determination. However, if a case is fully investigated and results in a finding of noncompliance, OCR must inform the recipient of the noncompliance through a Letter of Findings that sets out the areas of noncompliance and the steps that must be taken to correct the noncompliance. It must attempt to secure voluntary compliance through informal means. If the matter cannot be resolved informally, OCR may secure compliance through the termination of federal assistance after the recipient has been given an opportunity for an administrative hearing. OCR may also refer the matter to the Department of Justice to secure compliance through any other means authorized by law.

At all stages of an investigation, OCR engages in voluntary compliance efforts and provides technical assistance to recipients. During these efforts, OCR proposes reasonable timetables for achieving compliance and consults with and assists recipients in exploring cost-effective ways of coming into compliance. In determining a recipient's compliance with the Title VI regulations, OCR's primary concern is to ensure that the recipient's policies and procedures contain reasonable steps to provide meaningful access for LEP persons to the recipient's programs, activities or services. As a result, the vast majority of all complaints have been resolved through such voluntary efforts.

14. Q. Does issuing this guidance mean that OCR will be changing how it enforces compliance with Title VI?

A. No. How OCR enforces Title VI is governed by the Title VI implementing regulations. The methods and procedures used to investigate and resolve complaints, and conduct compliance reviews, have not changed.

15. Q. What is HHS doing to promote access for LEP persons to its own programs and services?Z

A. HHS provides a variety of services for LEP persons who come in contact with the Department. These services include oral language assistance services such as language lines and interpreters; translation of written materials; and foreign language web sites. HHS will continue to explore how it can share with its recipients language assistance measures, resources, cost-containment approaches, and other information and knowledge, developed with respect to its own federally conducted programs and activities, and welcomes any suggestions in this regard.



Content created by Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
Content last reviewed on July 26, 2013
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