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17. People who do not speak English

Signage/language access information

Use this checklist to see if your county is following the food stamps language access requirements. Produced by Micheal Mule and the Empire Justice Center.

Any county welfare department with a language group comprised of 5% or more must have all its signage in the language of that group. [MPP § 21-107.212.] In addition, all counties must have policies and procedures by which they determine the language needs of applicants and recipients, and to offer free interpreters. (See, generally, California Department of Social Services, Office of Human Rights, Civil Rights Bureau, Civil Rights Annual Plan Guidelines.)


State law requires the county food stamp office to have bilingual workers for any language for which the food stamps caseload is 5% or more. [MPP § 21-115.1.] For smaller language groups, or when a bilingual worker is not available, the county is required to have free, competent interpreters. [MPP § 21-115.15] Federal law uses a lower number, namely, 100 “single language households” within a certification area (or less under specified circumstances) to trigger the obligation. [7 C.F.R. § 272.4(b)(3).] However, the obligation is to provide bilingual staff or interpreters.

Written translations

The county food stamp office also should have application forms, notices, and other information about food stamps that are written in the languages that people speak in the community. [MPP § 63-202.21;7 C.F.R. § 272.4(b)(2), (3)]

Pursuant to a settlement agreement, the California Department of Social Services is performing an annual estimate to determine languages for written translations of all Food Stamps program materials. See Vu v. Mitchell, San Francisco Superior Court, CPF-04-504362 (2004). As of 2008, the state is required to translate all materials into Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian, Chinese, Cushite, Farsi, Formosan, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Mien, Panjabi, Portuguese, Spanish, Syriac, Tagalog, Russian, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese. Translated applications are on-line.

Counties are required to provided state-translated materials regardless of the size of the language group in their office. [MPP § 21-115.2]

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has an Executive Order 13166 resource page for locating related information and interpretations.

Applicants and recipients who do not speak English may also have rights to language assistance and materials in different languages under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d. USDA’s regulations to enforce Title VI cover the Food Stamp Program. [7 C.F.R. §§ 15.3(a), (b), (d)(5).] Executive Order 13166 of the President, “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency,” 65 Fed. Reg. 50121-50125 August 16, 2000) and the subsequent U.S. Department of Justice’s policy Guidance Regarding Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Limited English Proficient Persons, 67 Fed. Reg. 41445-41472 (June 18, 2002), provide further guidance on this matter. As of June 2008, the USDA has not yet issued its policy guidance on compliance with this executive order. The specific food stamps bilingual regulations, however, are more specific and triggered at a lower threshold than the amorphous balancing factors of the DOJ guidance.

Remedies for failure to provide language access

California hearing regulations provide that the time in which to request a hearing is extended if the county failed to use language-compliant notices. These are either notices which were sent in English even though the individual designated a non-English language, and the state has translated that notice, or if the state had no translation but the person contacted the worker within 90 days of getting a notice and the county failed to provide an interpreter. [MPP § 22-009.11.] California law also extends the time to request a hearing by 180 days (or as required by equity) for good cause. [Welf. & Inst. Code § 10951.]

Applicants and recipients can make various due process and other arguments (such as diminished capacity to report, under Welf. & Inst. Code § 11004(b) and MPP § 40-105.1) for failure to provide program rules and requirements in the appropriate language in translation or through an interpreter. [See, for example, Santiago v. D’Elia, 435 N.Y.S.2d 333 (App. Div. 1981) (reversing overissuance, finding that the agency had not met its duty to inform the recipient of his reporting responsibilities when information in English and no proof of interpreter); Haskins v. Stanton, 621 F.Supp. 622 (N.D. Ind. 1985), aff’d, 794 F.2d 1273 (7th Cir. 1986) (granting TRO over failure to comply with bilingual requirements).]

In addition, applicants and recipients can file a civil rights complaint.