After 6 straight weeks of organizing residents and speakers to attend budget hearings (including Budget Oversight Committee (BOC) and City Council budget hearings), the Language Access Coalition achieved a victory by winning money in the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget to fund the City’s Language Access Policy. In 2013, the Language Access Coalition was successful in getting the City of Long Beach to adopt a Language Access Policy, aimed at making the City’s services, meetings, and vital documents more accessible to Limited English Proficiency (LEP) speakers who speak Spanish, Khmer, or Tagalog. From 2013 to the adoption of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget, the Policy remained unfunded.
Thanks to all of the hard work of our local residents and the Language Access Coalition, the Long Beach City Council unanimously voted 9-0 to allocate $250,000 towards the implementation of the Language Access Policy in the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget along with an additional $150,000 for a staff position to help monitor the implementation of the policy. The $250,000 will be spent on translating vital documents that the Language Access Coalition has identified; translating City phone lines, phone trees, and voicemails; translating key City webpages; and training for staff on how to work with interpreters. All identified materials will be translated into Spanish, Khmer and Tagalog. The allocated $250,000 will also pay for a pilot project of Language Line in the Public Works Department. While the Policy was not been funded in its entirety, the Language Access Coalition identified this funding as a meaningful start to implementation.
Language Access in Long Beach
In Long Beach, 45.5% of residents speak a language other than English at home. Nearly one in four residents in LB speak English less than “very well.” The most common languages spoken, other than English, are: Spanish; Khmer; Tagalog; and Vietnamese. Currently, there are 139,263 Spanish speakers in the City; 15,520 Khmer speakers; 13,142 Tagalog speakers; and 4,670 Vietnamese speakers. City governments are legally required by federal and state laws to ensure that residents are given meaningful access to city meetings, services and vital documents.
Implementing a City-wide Language Access Policy
On August 13, 2013, the Long Beach City Council approved a City-wide Language Access Policy and directed City Staff to fund the Policy in the FY 2014 Budget. On November 21, 2013, the City Manager issued a To-For-From Memo to the City Council, which indicated that the Policy had not been funded in the budget and therefore it had not been implemented. On April 15, 2014, a Staff Report to Council regarding the Policy indicated that the Policy had not been funded or implemented. With the first vote on the FY 2015 Budget, the City Council has finally allocated partial funding to begin the implementation of the Policy in a meaningful way.
The Future of Language Access
While the initial funding has been identified and allocated, the entire budget for the Language Access Policy was identified by City Staff as $1.2 million. While many of the costs are one-time expenses, the remainder of the Policy’s components will not be implemented until future funding is identified. In addition, the Language Access Coalition will continue to work with the City Attorney’s office, City Staff, and City Councilmembers on developing the policy and effectively implementing its purpose.
The Language Access Coalition is a collaborative group of organizations including East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ), Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), Housing Long Beach (HLB), the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition (LBIRC), Aikona, Educated Men with Meaningful Messages (EM3), the Filipino Migrant Center (FMC), United Cambodian Community (UCC), Khmer Girls in Action (KGA), and Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach (BHCLB).