Coronavirus Language Access Act Reintroduced to House

A new version of the Coronavirus Language Access Act has been introduced to the House of Representatives by Grace Meng (D-NY). An earlier version of the act was introduced to the Senate in August 2020, however it did not receive a vote before the previous Congress ended.

“COVID-19 continues to ravage our nation, especially communities of color. To help close the health disparities these communities face, federal agencies must translate COVID-19-related materials into additional languages.” Meng said.

The Coronavirus Language Access Act would require all federal agencies that currently receive assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic to provide written resources in 20 languages, thus expanding language access for residents with limited English proficiency. Meng noted that the Coronavirus Language Access Act is especially necessary now, as vaccine distribution continues to ramp up. The legislation would require that public health communications about the vaccine be available in multiple languages so that no linguistic community is left behind.

In February, a study linking limited English proficiency and racial minority status with higher rates of COVID-19 incidence and mortality was published in JAMA Network Open. The researchers advocated for increased capacity of language access services similar to those outlined in the Coronavirus Language Access Act. The act has gained the support of other groups as well, such as the Hispanic Federation, the National Health Law Program, and the Joint National Committee for Languages–National Council for Languages and International Studies.

In a January presidential memorandum on racism toward Asian Americans, President Biden also stressed the importance of language access services, noting that “the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall, in coordination with the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, consider issuing guidance describing best practices for advancing cultural competency, language access, and sensitivity towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the context of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 response.”

In order to provide translations of COVID-19 related communications, the Coronavirus Language Access Act would provide a total of $200 million in funding to agencies required to increase language access services. Among numerous additional measures, the act would also require the CDC to create an informational hotline staffed with trained interpreters who can help provide information on the virus and vaccines to residents with limited English proficiency.

“Ultimately, one’s grasp of the English language should never determine their ability and access to fighting against this pandemic. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation and look forward to it becoming law,” Meng concluded.

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