Non-English speakers are denied city benefits: Suit

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Immigrant rights advocates and elected officials announced at City Hall last week a lawsuit accusing the Human Resources Administration of discrimination against people who have trouble communicating in English.

“Five years ago, Mayor Bloomberg proudly signed a landmark civil rights law ensuring equal access to all HRA services,” said Amy Taylor, language access project coordinator of Legal Services NYC.

“Today, despite a significant investment of taxpayers dollars, HRA is still routinely denying vital services to the most vulnerable New Yorkers in flagrant violation of the law.”

City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), recalling that “from the time I was in grade school, I was the primary interpreter for my mom,” said the situation was an example of how backward New York City is when compared to “other great cities around the world.”

“Here we have people being turned away because of their lack of English proficiency,” Liu said.

The lawsuit was filed against the HRA in New York state Supreme Court on behalf of people who have been denied access to benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid solely because they cannot communicate in English.

The court papers said violations against existing laws prohibiting such discrimination have been widespread and have been encountered in every borough.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Councilwoman Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan) also attended the rally on the City Hall steps.

Dozens of demonstrators hoisted signs, including those that read “Language Rights Are Civil Rights” and “Language Rights NOW.”

Legal Services of New York City, which provides legal aid for indigent people, said a survey it conducted found that:

• only 18 of the 69 HRA offices citywide provided all three basic language assistance services surveyed —posted signs, translated applications and interpreter provision/bilingual personnel.

• 10 percent of offices surveyed were not in compliance with any of the three measures;

• in Queens, the most diverse county in the country, none of the 10 HRA offices had all six translated applications.

• 18 percent of offices citywide had no applications in Spanish, a language spoken by nearly 2 million city residents.

• of the 19 Medicaid offices surveyed citywide, none provided applications in all six languages required. and

• fewer than two-thirds of the surveyed offices responded that an interpreter or bilingual staff members would be available as legally required.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

Updated 6:33 pm, October 10, 2011
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