CM Won Secures $5 Million to Create First Language Access Co-Op in the Country  


Queens, NY –  On Wednesday, December 21, Council Member Won and community advocates celebrated the passage of a legislative package to greatly expand language access for immigrant New Yorkers. Intro 136 and Intro 700, two bills spearheaded by Council Member Julie Won, will address the translation, interpretation, and overall language access needs of our immigrant neighbors and small business owners. Intro 136 would create a resource guide of  community-based organizations who provide translation and interpretation services that are culturally competent, in the correct language and dialect, and specific to New York City. This would create the first language access co-op by local non profits who will employ local community members in our city.  Intro 700 would require city agencies to translate written materials that they distribute when enforcing city laws or carrying out compliance actions.  

Language access is a matter of life and death in New York. Last year families in District 26 lost their lives when warnings about the severity of flooding from Hurricane Ida were distributed primarily in English. Earlier this week the second migrant this year took their own life at a shelter in Queens due to a lack of linguistically and culturally competent mental health services in our shelter systems and our city as a whole. These bills and the additional funding secured by the Council Member are the start of a new language access paradigm that would center community organizations who speak the language and understand the needs of those living in and coming to our city. 

New York City spends $19 million per year on translation and interpretation services, much of which goes to language line companies outside of New York State. Local Law 30 says that New York is required to provide information and services in 10 designated citywide languages and telephonic translations in 100 languages, but many individuals and organizations who service limited English proficiency communities have voiced their concern that the law does not go far enough. This law lays the groundwork to fund and recognize the organizations in our own city that already do this work and formalize their services.  

Through her advocacy on the Budget Negotiation Team, Council Member Won also secured $5 million dollars to fund the execution of Intro 136. The funding will develop a Community Interpreter Bank that recruits, trains, and dispatches interpreters locally in our city instead of spending taxpayer dollars to contract with vendors outside of the state. This funding is foundational in creating a city that is linguistically accessible to all residents, especially those who speak limited diffusion languages and have never engaged in government services before.

“Language Access is a matter of life and death. In our city, we have seen the deaths of families who were not able to understand warnings in English about the deadly flooding from Hurricane Ida. This week we witnessed the second tragic suicide of a recent migrant who could not access mental health services due to a stark lack of non-English mental health and welfare services in our city.  As our city continues to welcome thousands of new migrants and refugees with the end of Title 42, it’s critical to provide culturally competent language translations and interpretation services to our new neighbors,” said Council Member Julie Won. “My bills, Intro 136 and Intro 700, will expand language access for vulnerable populations, so that our immigrant neighbors and business owners have access to critical information in their own languages. We have secured $5 million in funding to establish the first language access co-op in the country, as well as a Community Interpreter Bank in partnership with the Language Access Coalition. Thank you to the Speaker, City Council, and African Communities Together, Asian American Federation, MASA, and NYIC for prioritizing language access for our immigrant communities.”

“New Yorkers speak hundreds of different languages, so it’s important that crucial city services and common documents are provided in their preferred languages,” said Speaker Adrienne Adams. “With the passage of legislation championed by the Council and proposed in my State of the City address, our immigrant communities will be better served and supported by city government. The Council will continue to advance efforts that ensure all New Yorkers have access to the language services and resources they need to thrive. I thank Council Member Won and all our colleagues for their support of these critical bills.”

“New York City is the most diverse city in the world and New Yorkers deserve language accessibility worthy of that title,” Asian American Federation Executive Director, Jo-Ann Yoo, said. “Int. 136 and Int. 700 are steps in the right direction, focusing on the critical parts of the City enterprise involving translation of critical documents and procurement of language services. We’re grateful that City Council continues to take a leadership role in making our City as responsive to its most vulnerable as possible.”

“For New York’s immigrant communities, language access makes the difference between being part of our city or being locked out,” said Amaha Kassa, Executive Director of African Communities Together. “Today New York takes a major step toward full inclusion by bringing language access to civil enforcement and legal compliance for immigrant businesses and community members. And we make a welcome move towards greater transparency in the dollars the City spends for language services and spending more of them on agencies based right here in our New York immigrant communities. We’re grateful to Council Member Won and her colleagues on the Council for their leadership on this issue.”

“We are very proud to learn that the New York City Council has moved in the right direction to improve language access for our immigrant and Limited English Proficient (LEP) community, who day in and day out help our City run smoothly,” said Masa Executive Director, Aracelis Lucero. “By passing Int. 136 and Int. 700, our City is able to leverage the richness in language diversity that already exists throughout our City by engaging culturally competent organizations who are already on the ground and ensuring that everyone, regardless of language spoken, receives written materials regarding changes in New York City laws and compliance orders.”

“Every New Yorker should be able to access important and urgent information from our government and its agencies without any obstacles. This pandemic showed many faults in our systems, one of the many being language access and the ability for all New Yorkers to receive important information in a preferred language, specifically for small business owners. New York City just took an important step towards ensuring that our immigrant small businesses are better informed about procurement of contracts and compliance . While there are still significant barriers to language access for New York’s immigrant communities, particularly those who speak languages of limited diffusion (LLDs), we look forward to working with Speaker Adams, Council Member Won and the rest of Council on implementation and future improvements to our city’s language access policies,” said Theodore Moore, Vice President of Policy & Programs, New York Immigration Coalition.

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