Coronavirus Language Access Act Introduced to Senate

U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) have introduced the Coronavirus Language Access Act, which expands access to coronavirus-related resources by increasing language access services and supporting culturally appropriate COVID-19 response programs to help those who have limited English proficiency (LEP), older Americans, and people with disabilities.

“We’ve seen that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the existing disparities in our public health system. Given that communities of color have been particularly hard-hit by this crisis, we need to make sure that language is no barrier to seeking and accessing care and resources related to COVID-19,” said Senator Warner.

The pandemic has magnified language access issues and disparities in health care, especially since 15% of the more than 25 million people in the U.S. with limited English proficiency are age 65 or older. Many limited English proficient individuals also work on the front lines of the pandemic response leaving them more vulnerable to infection.

The Coronavirus Language Access Act would:

  • Require federal agencies receiving COVID-19 funding to provide translated materials for COVID-19-related programs and opportunities within 7 business days after the English version is available.
  • Require federal agencies receiving COVID-19 funding to provide oral language assistance services for COVID-19-related programs and opportunities.
  • Require the head of every federal agency affected by the bill to submit a report about its compliance with the requirements of the bill to the relevant congressional Committees.
  • Provide $200 million for coronavirus-related language access services – $150 million of which must be for state (including DC), Tribal, and territorial health departments and community-based organizations to support culturally appropriate coronavirus response programs.
  • Require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create a coronavirus informational hotline with trained interpreters that provides COVID-19 information to the public.
  • Require CDC to provide translated materials relating to COVID-19 screening, testing, treatment, and educational information to state (including DC), Tribal, and territorial agencies.
  • Provide $20 million to states for Area Agencies on Aging and $10 million to states for Statewide Independent Living Councils to support older LEP individuals and LEP individuals with disabilities, respectively, in accessing COVID-19 information through partnerships with community-based organizations.

“We must do more so that all communities – regardless of English proficiency, age, or disability – have access to the federal government’s coronavirus-related services and resources in culturally appropriate and understandable ways,” argued Sen Hirono.

In addition to Senators Warner, Hirono, Casey, and Harris, the bill was also cosponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Sen Baldwin said, “The coronavirus pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many obstacles and disparities in our health care system, including language barriers. Our legislation will require the federal government to deploy culturally-appropriate coronavirus-related information and resources that are accessible for everyone, regardless of their primary language.”

“For too many Nevadans coronavirus-related resources like testing information, and basic updates about how to keep families safe aren’t available in their native languages,” said Sen Cortez Masto, focusing on her own state. “I’m proud to cosponsor legislation that will require federal agencies to provide accessible, translated materials for millions of hardworking Americans with disabilities or limited English proficiency, many of whom are frontline workers. Every Nevadan should be able to easily access everything from coronavirus prevention tips to information about relief

The Coronavirus Language Access Act is supported by more than 160 national and local organizations, including ACTFL; TESOL Intl. Assn.; UnidosUS; and the NAACP. Click here to see the full list of supporting organizations.

“Language access is an issue that has long been a priority for UnidosUS and during a pandemic it is particularly important that the tens of millions of Americans who speak a language other than English have the information and resources they need to stay safe and healthy,” said Eric Rodriguez, senior VP of Policy and Advocacy, UnidosUS.

“Use of our native languages in accessing health care and resources, especially during these times, is a step in uplifting and empowering Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities in Hawaii and across the country. Papa Ola Lokahi strongly supports the efforts of Senator Hirono and her colleagues Senators Casey & Harris in standing up for the rights of our Native peoples. E Ola Ka Olelo Hawaii!” said Dr. Sheri-Ann Daniels, executive director of Papa Ola Lokahi.

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