Healey Order Targets Language Barriers To Services
By Michael P. Norton
State House News Service
SEPT. 13, 2023…..Agencies across the sprawling executive branch in Massachusetts must develop plans over the next few months to better serve people with limited English proficiency, under an executive order signed Wednesday by Gov. Maura Healey.
The order, which Healey signed in connection with a Latino Empowerment Council meeting at the State House, also requires executive department agencies to identify language access coordinators within 30 days.
One in four state residents speaks a language other than English, according to Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll.
“Everyone in Massachusetts, regardless of what language they speak, deserves equitable access to government services and resources, but we recognize that language often poses a major barrier,” Healey said in a statement issued after the closed press council meeting.
Under the executive order (Spanish | Portuguese), executive branch agencies must assess the services provided to residents with limited English proficiency, languages spoken by the people they serve, current policies and practices regarding translations, and the capacity of their staff to deliver services in languages other than English, according to the administration.
The plans must be submitted by January (within 120 days) to the Governor’s Office of Access and Opportunity, and must include actions and policy changes to reduce language access barriers. Each agency must then issue a finalized plan within 30 days of receiving comments back from the office. The executive order also requires revised plans and an assessment of agency progress every two years.
Healey earlier this year named Marcony Almeida-Barros, who previously worked as chief of the community engagement division of the attorney general’s office, as deputy chief of staff for access and engagement in the governor’s office.
Lawmakers have filed numerous bills addressing language-related barriers in connection with state services. In June, Gloribel Rivas, chief of staff to Rep. Adrian Madaro, said that she had to translate hundreds of unemployment insurance applications in the East Boston district during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While I was fortunate to be able to help those I did, I know there are many others across the state who likely never received the full benefits and services they deserved because they cannot access the necessary information in a language they understood,” Rivas said. “I’m also acutely aware that these challenges began far before the pandemic and extend far beyond the unemployment insurance system.”
There were 41,787 people working in the executive branch as of June 2022, according to state financial disclosure documents, with 19,515 of those people in health and human services jobs.
The order does not apply to the legislative or judicial branches of state government.
Healey on Wednesday also issued a proclamation declaring Hispanic Heritage Month in Massachusetts from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.