Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin, which includes the affects of actions or inactions of recipients of federal funds on people with limited English proficiency (LEP). Under Executive Order 13166, the US Department of Justice is responsible for providing LEP guidance to all federal agencies, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) used to draft its proposed final LEP guidance for all recipients of USDA funds, including the Rural Housing Service and its Rural Development (RD) affordable housing programs.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition signed on to a comment letter on May 7 submitted by the Housing Justice Network, an informal network of legal services and other organizations advocating for the housing rights of low income households. Comments offered include:
- Some USDA programs, such as RD, already have regulations that require LEP services. Therefore, the final USDA guidance should specifically refer to those in order to prevent RD recipients from misinterpreting the USDA guidance as a retreat from the more specific RD programmatic regulations.
- The guidance should be revised to clarify throughout that the minimum compliance for any USDA-funded recipient is the provision of free oral interpretation for every LEP person.
- The guidance should require that written materials in any language be reviewed for readability at the 6th grade reading level.
- USDA should expand its communications to more languages than Spanish.
- The guidance should expand the list of types of documents that warrant translation to include model leases, denials of benefits or services, notices of rights, and notices of public hearings. Such translated documents should be posted on the USDA and RD websites.
- The guidance should require recipients’ posters, flyers, brochures, and notices to include a sentence in multiple languages explaining that there is a right to an interpreter or translation, and informing an LEP individual how to request that interpreter or translation from the recipient.
The HJN letter is attached.