Language barriers when filing unemployment claims

In part 1, I described how difficult it is for disabled folks to gain access to the Department’s claim-filing and how the Department’s rules absolve the Department of responsibility for providing effective access.

In part 2, I described how the Department does NOT meet federal requirements for providing claim-filing access to disabled workers.

Here, I describe how the Department fails to meet federal requirements for providing claim-filing access to non-English speakers.

These federal requirements are again spelled out in in UIPL 2-16 (1 Oct. 2015) and UIPL 2-16 Change 1 (11 May 2020).

Claim-filing access for those who do not speak English

The Department’s on-line claim-filing questions are available at this previous post. And, here is how the Department responded when I raised a concern about a lack of translated claim-filing material:

You also raise concerns that the claims-filing process is limited to on-line and English-only versions and such claim-filing limitations are expressly prohibited by UIPL 02-16.

DWD currently provides the weekly UI claim form in both English and Spanish. Claimants with limited English proficiency may file UI claims by phone with free interpretation service by calling (414) 435-7069 or toll-free (844) 910-3661 during business hours. English-speaking claimants who cannot file online due to communications disabilities or other barriers (e.g., no access to the internet) may call (414) 435-7069 or toll-free (844) 910-3661 during business hours to file a claim.

DWD also intends to review its vital information related to UI claims that is available on-line and to translate that information into languages spoken by a significant portion of the population eligible to be served or likely to be encountered in UI programs. In the meantime, UI will ensure that vital information, such as applications, are made available via phone interpretation or translation for LEP individuals.

Notice what is missing from this explanation. The initial claim forms are English-only. And, the on-line portal is English-only as well as the jobcenterofwisconsin.com website on which claimants are required to register.

So, for the English-only portions of the website, how exactly is a Spanish or Hmong-speaking claimant supposed to get assistance? Is that person going to read the English on the website to the interpreter on the phone so that the interpreter can then translate the English portion of the website into Spanish or Hmong?

Here is what the ensuring access program letters provide on this issue:

A. Legal Requirements. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin, under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. 42 U.S.C. §2000d. Section 188 of WIA and section 188 of WIOA contain a similar prohibition. Relevant case law has interpreted “national origin” to include ensuring that individuals with LEP [limited English profiency] have meaningful access to programs and activities.

Footnote: See Pabon v. Levine, 70 F.R.D 674, 677 (S.D.N.Y. 1976) citing Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S, 563, (denied summary judgment for defendants in case alleging that State officials failed to provide unemployment insurance information in Spanish, in violation of Title VI).

The regulations giving effect to this Title provide in part that recipients, such as state UI agencies, “may not… utilize criteria or methods of administration which have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of 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.” 29 CFR 31.3(b)(2). Under Title VI, oral interpretation or in-language services “should be provided at the time and place that avoids the effective denial or the imposition of an undue burden on or delay in important rights, benefits, or services to the LEP person.” 68 Fed. Reg. 32296.

The WIA and WIOA nondiscrimination regulations place different levels of obligation on covered recipients, including state UI agencies, with respect to services and information in languages other than English. With respect to persons who communicatein the language (or languages) used by a “significant numberor proportion” of the population served, the recipient must take reasonable steps to provide services and information in appropriate languages.” With respect to LEP individuals who communicatein less-widely-used languages, the recipient “should make reasonable efforts to meet the particularized language needs” of such persons. 29 CFR 37.35(a)(2) and (b) or 29 CFR 38.35(a)(2) and (b), as applicable.

State UI agencies engage in two main ways of providing language services: oral interpretation, either in person or via telephone interpretation service, and written translation, on a website or in hard copy. State UI agencies should provide adequate notice to LEP individuals of the existence ofinterpretation and translation services and that they are available free of charge.

Footnote: State UI agencies may employ bilingual staff who speak directly in-language to LEP individuals, “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 . . . or UI claims examiners, with staff who are bilingual and competent to communicate directly with LEP persons in the appropriate language.” 68 Fed. Reg. 32296.

Although technology-based service delivery models may make access for some LEP individuals easier, web-based UI information and claims-filing systems may have the effect of limiting access for LEP individuals in violation of Title VI and regulations promulgated by WIA, as amended, and WIOA especially if such information and systems are not effectively translated into appropriate language(s). Therefore, state UI agencies that develop web-based systems should carefully design them to ensure that information about services and benefits presented in those systems, and the claims-filing processes implemented through those systems, contain meaningful translations of vital information into appropriate languages and are otherwise accessible to LEP individuals.

B. Methods of Providing Access. For languages spoken by a significant number or proportion ofthe eligible service population, individuals should be able to learn about, apply for, and maintain eligibility in the relevant language(s) for every program delivery avenue (i.e., online, in person, and/or phone). The state agency should also ensure it has reasonable methods in place for identifying and reaching other LEP individuals who speak a language that is not spoken by a significant number or proportion of the eligible service population. As state UI agencies move to almost exclusively website-driven services, there is an increased likelihood that LEP individuals will face barriers to accessing information and claims-related accessin violation of Title VI and regulations promulgated by WIA, as amended, and WIOA, and as described above. Appendix B contains resources for states and state UI agencies to use in developing an LEP policy and procedures to ensure meaningful access to programs for LEP individuals.

Examples of actions that state UI agencies should take to ensure access for LEP individuals include:

  • When a significant number or percentage of the population eligible to be served, or likely to be directly affected by the program/activity, needs services or information in a language other than English to participate effectively, vital documents and/or vital information must be translated. A document and/or information will be considered vital if it contains instructions or guidance that are critical for obtaining services and/or benefits, or is required by law. Vital documents and/or information must be available in both hard copy upon request and in electronic text on a website. For example, if a certain form is necessary in order to file a claim with an agency, that form would be vital. Other vital documents and/or information include: applications, consent and complaint forms; notices of rights and responsibilities; notices advising LEP persons of the availability of free language assistance; rulebooks; written tests that do not assess English language competency, but rather competency for a particular license, job, or skill for which English proficiency is not required; and letters or notices that require a response from the beneficiary or client.

    Non-vital information includes instructions and/or guidance that are not critical to access benefits and services. For many larger documents, translation of vital information contained within the document will suffice and the documents need not be translated in their entirety. It may sometimes be difficult to draw a distinction between vital and non-vital documents and/or information, particularly when considering outreach or other documents designed to raise awareness of rights or services.

    Though meaningful access to a program requires an awareness of the program’s existence, we recognize that it would be impossible, from a practical and cost-based perspective,to translate every piece of outreach material into every language. Title VI does not require this of recipients of Federal financial assistance, and Executive Order 13166 does not require it of Federal agencies. Nevertheless, because in some circumstances lack of awareness of the existence of a particular program may effectively deny LEP individuals meaningful access, it is important for agencies to regularly survey/assess the needs of eligible service populations in order to determine whether other materials should be translated into other languages.

    Note: Use of free, web-based translation services (also known as machine translation software) is not sufficient to ensure that the translation is appropriate and conveys the same meaning as the English version. Information about effective translation resources may be found at: http://www.digitalgov.gov/2012/10/01/automated-translation-good-solution-or-not/
  • Even where there is not a “significant” numberor proportion of LEP persons, state UI agencies should inform program users and other members of the public about the LEP services offered orally and in writing. This includes incorporating a “Babel notice” into all vital communications, such as hard-copy letters or decisions or those communications posted on websites and via telephone-based technology, regarding eligibility requirements, benefits rights, intake procedures, claims processes, eligibility determinations and appeal rights in appropriate language(s). UI agency staff should be trained to identify language access barriers and provide affected claimants alternative access options (including ongoing periodic training to ensure that the state’s standard operating procedures are known and adhered to by staff).

    Footnote: A Babel notice is similar to a tag line that appears in multiple languages on vital documents or on web pages containing vital information available in English only that explains that the document or webpage contains important information, and how to access language services to have the contents of the document provided in other languages. Examples are contained in Unemployment Insurance Program Letter No. 30-11, State Responsibilities Regarding Limited English Proficient Individuals.
  • State UI agencies should ensure that individuals with known language needs are identified and that future vital program communications occur in the appropriate language for that individual (including claimant decisions/determinations, notices of right to appeal, and appeal decisions).
  • State UI agencies should incorporate, into LEP plans, policies and procedures, methods for ensuring the quality of translations and interpretations. This may include, but is not limited to, using competent bilingual staff to ensure the accuracy of in-house or vendor-provided translations and interpretations.
  • State UI agencies should notify the public, through methods that will reach LEP communities, of LEP policies and procedures, and LEP access-related developments. Methods for publicizing language assistance include:
    • Using a telephone voicemail menu to provide information about available language assistance services and how to access them;
    • Posting signs in intake areas in American Job Centers (formerly One-Stop Centers) and other entry points;
    • Stating in vital written program materials, including hard-copy and electronic general program website information, that language assistance services are available from the agency; and
    • Working with community-based organizations and other stakeholders to inform LEP individuals of language assistance services.
  • State UI agencies should also ensure that web-based claims filing systems also maintain a system for receiving and addressing complaints from limited English proficient persons and persons with a disability. This includes, but is not limited to, providing in-language notice regarding how to file an online complaint about delayed or denied service resulting from language barriers.

UIPL 2-16 (1 Oct. 2016) at 7-10. And, here is what the 2020 addition to this program letter provides:

The regulations, at 29 C.F.R. § 38.9, explicitly require states to “take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to each limited English proficient (LEP) individual served or encountered so that LEP individuals are effectively informed about and/or able to participate in the program or activity.” 29 C.F.R. § 38.9(b). Examples of reasonable steps cited in the regulations include assessing an LEP individual to determine language assistance needs; providing oral interpretation or written translation of both hard copy and electronic materials in the appropriate language; and conducting outreach to LEP communities to improve service delivery in needed languages.

Further, the regulations require that all language assistance services must be accurate, provided in a timely manner, and free of charge. Language assistance is considered timely when it is provided at a place and time that ensures equal access and avoids delay or denial of any aid, benefit, or service at issue. States must provide notice to LEP individuals that interpretation and translation services are available at no cost. The updated regulations explicitly require states to translate written, oral, or electronic “vital information,” defined as information necessary for an individual to obtain any aid, benefit, or service, or to understand how to do so. 29 C.F.R. § 38.4(ttt). Examples of vital information in the UI context include applications for benefits, notices of rights and responsibilities, and communications requiring a response from the beneficiary or applicant. This information must be translated into languages spoken by a significant number or portion of a state’s population. The state must also take reasonable steps to meet the particularized language needs of LEP individuals who speak other languages. A website provided by the Department of Justice provides extensive resources to assist government agencies and programs receiving Federal assistance, including state UI programs, to address the needs of LEP individuals. This website includes a new interactive mapping tool that helps users find the languages spoken by LEP individuals, and the concentration of LEP individuals speaking those languages, at the state or county level. Information about the tool and related data is available at https://www.lep.gov/faq/faqs-mapping-tools/commonly-asked-questions-regarding-limited-english-proficient-lep-data-and

The current regulations also require states to include a “Babel notice” in all communications of vital information. 29 C.F.R §38.9(g)(3). A “Babel notice” is a short notice in multiple languages that informs the reader that the communication contains vital information and explains how to access the agency’s language services to have the contents of the communication provided in other languages. See 29 C.F.R. § 38.4(i); UIPL No. 30-11. In addition, states must record the limited English proficiency and preferred language of each LEP claimant/beneficiary, and as soon as the agency is aware of the non-English preferred language, convey vital information in that language.

UIPL 2-16 Change 1 (11 May 2020) at 3-4.

Let’s count the ways that the Department fails to meet these requirements:

  • Only initial claims are available in a language other than English (Spanish). Since these forms are necessary in order to file a claim, they are vital documents and must be available in other languages where a significant percentage does not speak English.
  • The UI portal is English only.
  • The job center registration website is English-only.
  • When the Department turned to a contract interpretation service in 2016, it stopped trying to hire bilingual staff that could converse with non-English speakers directly.
  • It is unclear what access the Department’s contract interpreters available via a phone service have to claimants’ unemployment records, and so the ability of those interpreters to provide accurate interpretation is in doubt. From my dealings with the Department, these interpreters join a call between a Department staffer and a non-English speaking claimant only when the claimant asks for an interpreter. If there are questions about a form or on-line screen, the claimant and staffer go back and forth, with the interpreter in the middle.
  • I am unaware of any outreach undertaken by the Department to connect with Latina or Latino groups or Hmong groups about language barriers with the claim-filing process.
  • Benefit year calculations and initial determinations are English-only.
  • While the Handbook for Claimants is available in multiple languages, numerous other documents are NOT, like how to do a job search.
  • FAQ and other on-line guidance are generally English-only. For example, PUA guidance is in Spanish and Hmong, but eligibility issues is English-only as is the direct deposit form and other forms.
  • There is no on-line mechanism for letting the Department know of a preferred language.
  • There is no on-line complaint form for letting the Department know about delayed or denied service arising from language barriers.

One thought on “Language barriers when filing unemployment claims

  1. Pingback: More Department proposals for 2021 | Wisconsin Unemployment

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