For Immediate Release: January 26, 2022
Contact: [email protected]
CITIES FOR ACTION URGES LANGUAGE EQUITY IN ACCESS TO COVID-19 RESOURCES
Cities for Action and the Municipal Language Access Network issued the following statement regarding limited language options offered to people who wish to order rapid COVID-19 test kits
Cities for Action (C4A) is a coalition of more than 150 U.S. mayors and county executives advocating for immigrant-inclusive programs and policies at the federal and local levels. The Municipal Language Access Network (MLAN) is a collaboration of municipal and state government employees to share resources and develop best practices for the improvement of language access. Its mission is to ensure that language access provision to immigrants and refugees becomes integrated into all government and quasi-government agencies, enhancing the respect for language and diversity.
We applaud the federal government’s effort to expand COVID-19 testing by both offering free at-home test kits available to be ordered through the COVIDtests.gov website and a plan to set up a call line to accommodate those who are not able to use the website.
We urge the federal government to prioritize language access in its effort to distribute COVID-19 test kits. The United States boasts approximately 66 million people (or 21.6% of the population) who speak a language other than English at home. Most of them are immigrants that experience barriers to accessing information and services in English, including a lack of adequate access to technology and/or limited digital skills. Addressing these barriers is critical to the federal government’s effort to combat COVID-19.
Federal agencies have a clear obligation to provide meaningful access to government information to people with Limited English Proficiency based on the Department of Justice guidance for Executive Order 13166, “Improving Access to Services for People with Limited English Proficiency.” 
To further meet that obligation and ensure equity and access to testing by all Americans, we urge the Biden Administration to:
- expand the list of languages on the covidtests.gov website beyond Spanish and Simplified Chinese to also include other top languages spoken in the US, such as Vietnamese, Tagalog, Arabic, Korean, Russian and Haitian Creole;
- ensure that the call line that is intended to assist people who are unable to access the website is at a minimum supported by live interpretation services and readily accessible. A model of separate in-language phone lines, similar to the one implemented by the Census Bureau in 2020, would be the most effective way to accommodate limited English speakers. Instead of interpretation being offered to assist with a call placed to a centralized phone line, separate phone numbers can be set up to accommodate callers of each specific language. Information about the in-language call line should be prominently displayed on the website and included in multilingual outreach materials.
We know that immigrants are bearing the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and are working on the frontlines including in healthcare, service, and agriculture sectors. The Administration should ensure that everyone living in the United States has equitable access to information and tools to fight this deadly pandemic. The success of government efforts to manage the many crises caused by COVID-19 depends on its ability to effectively reach and serve all residents, regardless of their digital and language proficiency.
 2019 American Community Survey 5-year estimates available at https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=DP02&tid=ACSDP5Y2019.DP02
 These are the top languages spoken by people over 5 years old who speak English less than “very well” based on the 2019 American Community Survey 5-year estimates available at https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=language%20spoken%20at%20home&tid=ACSDT1Y2019.B16001 .
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