Breaking the Language Barrier
From El Diario
December 23, 2003
By Maxy Sosa

Are you one of the thousands of New Yorkers who speak Spanish, Creole, Chinese, Korean, Arabic, or Russian and need services from the Humanitarian Recourses Administration of the city? Well now you won’t have to worry anymore.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a law yesterday guaranteeing equal access to services provided by the HRA for those who don’t speak English but speak one of the six above-mentioned languages.

The legislation, introduced two years ago in the city council by Democrat John Liu, District 20, Queens, will end the troubles surrounding 2 million New Yorkers who don’t speak English and depend on the help of agencies under the jurisdiction of the HRA, like the Child Services Administration, the Department of Health and Hygiene, and the Department of Abandoned Services [orphans].

The legislation, known as Intro 38-A, establishes that said departments must provide services of interpretation to those who solicit help, and to have certain documents available in Spanish, Creole, Chinese, Korean, Arabic, and Russian.
Putting the situation in perspective, the mayor explained in Spanish the importance of the revision of this legislation for members of the immigrant community, “the New Yorkers that don’t speak English have faced many obstacles to get benefits services they are eligible for.”

Adding that “Into 38-A attempts to increase access to those city services for people who pay taxes and who fight for this country but who have a limited ability with English.” Among the organizations that participated in the negotiations of approving the legislation are Make the Road by Walking, Unite, Coalition of Immigrants of the City of New York, and the local 32BJ.

“To learn a difficult language is difficult, and is worse if the preservation of the family, the security and health of their children, or the capacity to preserve their home and maintain themselves outside of the system depends on their English speaking capacity,” declared Andrew Friedman, of Make the Road by Walking.

For his part, the commissioner of the HRA, Verna Eggleston, recognized that the process of negotiation is not always easy, but praised the “perseverance of those who advise for the rights of immigrants who were here at the doors of my building, trying to support the law that today (yesterday) are here in order for the company of the same one.”

The administration of the Human Recourse will implement the project gradually during the next 5 years at a cost of $5 million, which will be including in the annual budget of the agency that reaches billions of dollars. For the Dominican woman Barcilides Matos, yesterday was historic, “at last we broke the language barrier,” she exclaimed, seeing the mayor signing the law.

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Translated from Spanish by Charlotte Triggs

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