What are a TANF agency's obligations with regard to serving applicants and beneficiaries with limited English proficiency?
Another way that Title VI may be implicated is in the way a TANF agency serves limited English proficient (LEP) individuals. Under Title VI regulations, to avoid discrimination on the basis of national origin, “TANF agencies must take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access for LEP individuals. The manner in which TANF agencies meet this obligation to LEP individuals may vary.” Federal guidance has set forth the following four factors that recipients of Federal financial assistance, including TANF agencies, may use in determining their responsibilities to provide meaningful access for LEP individuals:
(1) The number or proportion of LEP individuals eligible to be served or likely to be affected by the program or service;
(2) The frequency of contact that the program or service has with LEP individuals;
(3) The nature and importance of the program, activity, or service; and
(4) The costs and resources available to the program or service.
Depending on the results of a TANF agency's analysis of these factors, it may be necessary for the agency to provide interpreter services to LEP individuals or translate certain documents into languages other than English to ensure that the TANF agency provides meaningful access for LEP individuals.
A TANF agency that serves a substantial LEP population has determined that interpreter services are needed when questioning LEP applicants about critical eligibility issues. In lieu of providing competent and timely interpreter services, the TANF agency advises the applicants to bring friends or relatives to serve as interpreters during these appointments. This is an example of conduct that may violate Title VI's obligation to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access.