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May 11, 2012: Advocates Submit Comments on USDA’s Proposed Guidance On National Origin Discrimination

On May 7, 2012, NHLP joined eleven advocacy and legal groups across the country in providing public comments to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding the Department’s proposed guidance (Guidance) prohibiting national origin discrimination against individuals with limited-English proficiency (LEP).

Under federal law, recipients of federal financial assistance may not provide services and programs that discriminate against individuals based on their LEP status. Executive Order 13166 mandated that federal agencies giving financial assistance to non-federal entities publish guidance on how their recipients can provide meaningful access to LEP individuals. The intent of USDA’s Guidance is to clarify the obligations of recipients.

As part of the Housing Justice Network (HJN) and the National Language Access Advocates Network (N-LAAN), NHLP applauded USDA for taking steps to improve the services provided to LEP persons and further proposed ways to improve upon the Guidance. Among other points, HJN and N-LAAN advocates emphasized the need for the Guidance to require

• USDA programs already bound by regulations requiring LEP services to continue to meet these legally mandated thresholds for translation and interpretation, in addition to the Guidance’s obligations;
• USDA recipients to provide, at a minimum, free oral interpretation for every LEP person;
• LEP access for USDA recipients that use different methods of electronic communication;
• data collection of language needs and services as an essential part of planning and monitoring compliance by recipients and USDA; and
• written materials in any language be readable for LEP populations with low literacy levels.

In addition, HJN and N-LAAN suggested several ways in which USDA itself could improve language access, such as by translating information on the Department’s website into languages beyond Spanish and developing a LEP Plan.

Click here to view the proposed guidelines.



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