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State Letter #00-18

Policy Guidance on the Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination

Published: September 18, 2000
Types:
State Letter

TO: STATE REFUGEE COORDINATORS
NATIONAL VOLUNTARY AGENCIES
MUTUAL ASSISTANCE ASSOCIATIONS
OTHER INTERESTED PARTIES

FROM: Lavinia Limón, Director
Office of Refugee Resettlement

SUBJECT: Policy Guidance on the Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination As It Affects Persons With Limited English Proficiency

The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights has released Policy Guidance on the Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination As It Affects Persons With Limited English Proficiency (Policy Guidance). Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin under any program that receives Federal financial assistance. The prohibition of discrimination based on national origin includes the prohibition of discrimination against Limited English Proficient (LEP) persons. LEP persons are individuals who cannot speak, read, write or understand English well enough to communicate effectively with health and social service providers. The Policy Guidance clarifies that it is the responsibility of health and social service providers who receive Federal financial assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that LEP persons receive language assistance so that they may have meaningful access to benefits and services.

Since 1980, ORR, in fulfilling its mission to resettle refugees, has funded State agencies, community-based organizations, mutual assistance associations, private voluntary agencies and local health departments, among others. Those entities, in turn, have served refugees and asylees from diverse countries including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, the former Soviet Union, Bosnia, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and others. The majority of these populations are made up of LEP persons. ORR grantees, therefore, have been at the forefront of assessment and the development of language assistance for LEP persons. ORR commends its grantees for their efforts and asks them to re-commit to ensuring that LEP persons receive appropriate, meaningful language assistance so that they can access benefits and services to help them begin their new lives in the United States. Grantees should take this opportunity, at the release of the Policy Guidance, to re-assess efforts, to devise new strategies, to implement improvements and to offer technical assistance to other agencies in providing effective language assistance to LEP persons.

Who should be in compliance with Title VI?

This Policy Guidance applies to all entities that receive Federal financial assistance from HHS, either directly or indirectly, through a grant, contract or subcontract. Covered entities include (1) any State or local agency, private institution or organization, or any public or private individual that (2) operates, provides or engages in health, or social service programs and activities and that (3) receives Federal financial assistance from HHS directly or through another recipient/covered entity. For ORR purposes, all state agencies, community-based organizations, national voluntary agencies, mutual assistance associations and any other entities receiving ORR funds, either directly or indirectly, are covered entities and must be in compliance with Title VI, and the obligation to provide language assistance when needed to ensure meaningful access to LEP persons.

According to the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 (CRRA) all operations of ORR grantees, usually, are covered by Title VI, not just the part of the program that uses Federal assistance. In other words, ORR grantees should be in compliance with Title VI even if ORR funding is used only by one part of the program.

What are the keys to compliance?

The key component to ensuring meaningful access for LEP persons is language assistance. The necessary language assistance will vary depending on the size of the grantee, the size of the eligible LEP population it serves, the nature of the program, the objectives of the program, the resources available to the grantee and the frequency with which particular languages are encountered. The Policy Guidance provides a discussion of the four keys to compliance: assessment of the language needs, the development of a written policy, staff training and monitoring. ORR is including with this State Letter an outline of the "Keys to Compliance" to assist grantees in assessing and formulating their language assistance provisions.

What are ORR grantees' responsibilities?

The Policy Guidance does not impose new responsibilities on ORR grantees. Since its enactment, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has prohibited discrimination against LEP persons in any program that receives Federal financial assistance. Although ORR regulations only detail the obligations of grantees to ensure that LEP persons receive language assistance so that they have meaningful access to refugee cash assistance, the legal requirement in Title VI extends to all assistance and services provided with ORR funds. ORR recommends that the release of the Policy Guidance be seen as an opportunity to evaluate policies and to improve services to LEP persons. Therefore, ORR asks grantees to take the following steps.

(1) Modification of State Plans. ORR asks States to revisit their policies concerning LEP persons and to modify their State Plans by specifically including a framework outlining their policy on assistance to LEP persons. ORR grantees should submit their revised State Plans to ORR by Wednesday, November 8, 2000. ORR asks States to carefully review the Policy Guidance and the attached "Keys to Compliance" in formulating their policy. States that need assistance in assessing or formulating their policy may contact the HHS Office for Civil Rights for consultation about their programs.

(2) Narrative Reports by Discretionary Grantees and Sub-grantees. ORR asks all discretionary grantees and sub-grantees to report on their implementation of the Policy Guidance in their next narrative reports. Reports should include an outline of the grantee's LEP policy, as well as its implementation. Like the States, ORR grantees that administer refugee cash assistance programs under the Wilson-Fish authority must comply with ORR regulations requiring agencies to make their policy and program materials available in written form in appropriate languages where a significant proportion of the recipient population needs information in a particular language. (See information to States above.)

(3) Monitoring. ORR will include a review of LEP practices in monitoring sessions. All grantees should be prepared to share their written LEP policies and to discuss implementation.

(4) Future Proposals. In future Requests for Proposals (RFPs), ORR will require submitting entities to outline their policies concerning language assistance for LEP persons. Policies should address the four keys to compliance described in the Policy Guidance. Submitting entities will be encouraged to contact the HHS Office for Civil Rights for advice on the development of appropriate policies.

(5) Costs of LEP Program Implementation. States and grantees should not divert ORR funding from The Federal Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP) to the implementation of LEP policies in other programs. Each individual assistance or services program that serves LEP persons should be ensuring meaningful access to language assistance without placing the financial responsibility solely on ORR funds.

As noted above, ORR commends its grantees for their efforts in assisting LEP persons. ORR hopes that its grantees, with years of experience effectively serving refugees and asylees with varying degrees of language skills, will take a leadership role in the assistance to LEP persons within their communities. ORR also wants to encourage grantees to work together and to assist other agencies in ensuring that their programs are in compliance with Title VI as outlined in the Policy Guidance.

The Policy Guidance was published in the Federal Register on August 30, 2000.

Please call Anna Marie Bena at (202) 260-5186 if you have questions about any of the information in this State Letter.