American Renaissance

D.C. Council Mandates Translators

Agencies Will Assist Non-English Speakers

Arthur Santana, Washington Post, Apr. 7

The D.C. Council passed a bill yesterday that requires translators in nearly two dozen city agencies and the appointment of a citywide coordinator to ensure that residents who are not proficient in English are provided equal access to services.

The bill, which passed unanimously and is expected to be signed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), according to his spokesman, would require 22 agencies dealing with the public to designate a language-access coordinator to develop and implement a plan that includes hiring bilingual employees and translating official materials into Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese and Amharic, a language of Ethiopia, among other languages.

The bill, introduced in the fall and again in February by council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), also would require the D.C. Office of Human Rights to coordinate the effort and monitor the agencies’ compliance.

“I think this is a solid step forward for the hardworking, contributing people of this city who have limited English proficiency,” Graham said. “It’s going to mean that there is going to be greater access to government agencies by ensuring that government services are provided in languages other than English.”

If the bill becomes law, the effort to place language coordinators in each city agency will take about four years, Graham said. Among the agencies affected will be the police department, Department of Health, Department of Employment Services, D.C. Public Schools and the Department of Motor Vehicles, Graham said.

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Last year, city financial officials estimated the program would cost $7.74 million from fiscal 2003 through fiscal 2006. But Graham said that by using vacant positions already part of the city budget, he was able to keep the cost at $300,000 for the first year. That figure is expected to climb to nearly $500,000 by the third year, he said.

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