Nineteen US States Wrap Up Audit of Language Access Compliance During Covid-19

Nineteen US States Wrap Up Audit of Language Access Compliance During Covid-19

Nineteen states in the US have successfully completed a language access compliance review of Covid-19 public health messaging, according to a March 18, 2024 press release from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The review was triggered by concerns raised by the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) that the states had violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on national origin and limited English proficiency (LEP), among other traits. 

Title VI requires entities receiving federal financial assistance, including state and local government, to enable meaningful language access to LEP individuals. It also applies to subrecipients of federal funding. 

NHeLP alleged that emergency management and public health agencies in 19 states failed to enable meaningful language access for LEP individuals during winter 2022 and spring 2023. 

HHS, the US Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and the FEMA Office of Equal Rights reviewed Covid-19 messaging from the following states: California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

The three agencies requested and reviewed data from each of the 19 states, and followed up by sending training materials to more than 10,900 state agencies and agencies’ subrecipients explaining effective practices to meet language access requirements. 

Best practices include planning ahead to serve LEP communities before emergencies and disasters strike; making sure LEP communities understand how to request language services; and minimizing the use of machine translation (MT) while using “qualified” human translators to review MT output for accuracy.