A Louisville Metro Council proposal aims to ensure all residents — no matter the language they speak or how they communicate — can meaningfully access city programs, service and forms. That includes applying for public benefits, business permits and utility assistance.
District 4 Council Member Jecorey Arthur and Nicole George of District 21, both Democrats, have proposed an ordinance to begin creating language access plans across Metro departments.
In 2000, then U.S. President Bill Clinton signed an executive order to implement the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by making services provided by federal agencies accessible to everyone. It also required local and state governments to abide by language access guidelines in order to qualify for federal funds. But Arthur said that’s not enough.
“We’ve only done the bare minimum to be in compliance with the federal government,” Arthur said. “We have over 150-something languages spoken, and not everyone in our agencies has a process for people to get translation services.”
George’s district is home to most of Louisville’s international residents. She said she’s seen firsthand the need to improve access to city services and resources. She said the improvements need to be made citywide.
“I think for some agencies, there’s not a systematic approach in how they respond to these needs. We have some Metro employees that do tremendous work in interpreting and translating on the fly. They don’t get paid extra for that,”
In 2020, New American Economy, a bipartisan organization specializing in immigration research and advocacy, included Louisville in its list of 11 U.S. cities in which “culturally sensitive and language accessible emergency materials are in demand.”
The report showed about 24% of Louisville’s immigrant residents aren’t fluent in English. It also highlighted disparities in language access, securing federal relief and risk of getting COVID-19, which the study attributed to immigrants doing frontline and essential work.
“As the [international] population grows in Louisville, the need for ensuring that newcomers who have yet to learn the English language or have limited proficiency in English, can access all the services that are available to them,” Amos Izerimana said.
He’s the program manager within the Louisville Metro Office of Globalization. He said that need became especially critical at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We needed to make sure all the changing information from the federal government, state government, and also some of the suggestions from the city went out to all members of the community. And that included translating information in multiple languages,” Izerimana said.
Izerimana said the city’s effort to translate COVID-19 related information, including about safety advisories, testing and vaccination locations, highlighted the need to expand language access.
Metro Council’s Equity and Inclusion Committee will consider the proposal during its meeting Thursday afternoon.
If it gains the Council’s approval, city agencies will have one year to get their language access plans together and highlight budgetary requirements needed to execute them.