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FAQs for Limited English Proficiency Program

1. Q: Who is a Limited English Proficient (LEP) individual?

A: Individuals who do not speak English as their primary language and who have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English can be limited English proficient, or “LEP.” These individuals may be entitled language assistance with respect to a particular type of service, benefit, or encounter.

2.Q: What are the relevant laws concerning language access for LEP individuals?
A: Federal laws particularly applicable to language access include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), Title VI implementing regulations, and Executive Order 13166. In addition, many individual federal programs, states, and localities have provisions requiring language services for LEP persons.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating based on 
race, color, or national origin. The failure of a recipient of federal financial assistance to provide language assistance to LEP persons in relation to their programs and services may constitute discrimination based on national origin.

Department of Energy Title VI Implementing Regulations -DOE's regulations implementing Title VI can be found at 10 C.F.R. Part 1040.

Executive Order 13166 -entitled “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency,” requires federal agencies to:

  • Examine the services they provide and develop and implement a system by which LEP persons can meaningfully access those services consistent with, and without unduly burdening, the fundamental mission of the agency;
  • Prepare a plan to improve access to their federally conducted programs and activities by eligible LEP persons;
  • Work to ensure that recipients of federal financial assistance provide meaningful access to their LEP applicants and beneficiaries; and
  • Provide guidance to recipients of federal financial assistance regarding their obligations to ensure that LEP persons have meaningful access to their programs and services.

3.Q: What is a recipient of federal financial assistance?
A: Federal financial assistance includes grants, training, use of equipment, donations of surplus property, and other assistance. Recipients of federal assistance range from state and local agencies, to nonprofits and other organizations. Subrecipients are also subject to Title VI, when federal funds are passed from one recipient to a subrecipient. 
Note: Title VI covers a recipient’s entire program or activity. This means all parts of a recipient’s operations are subject to Title VI, even if only one part of the recipient receives the federal assistance.

4.Q: What is a federally conducted activity?
A: Anything a federal agency does falls within the scope of federally conducted programs or 
activities. Federally conducted activities include the provision of federal benefits or services, the imposition of a burden on a member of the public, and any other activities a federal agency conducts. Aside from employment, there are two major categories of federally conducted programs or activities covered by the Executive Order: those involving general public contact as part of ongoing agency operations, and those directly administered by the agency for program beneficiaries and participants.

5.Q: What are recipients of federal funds and federal agencies required to do to meet LEP requirements?
A: Recipients and federal agencies are required to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to their programs and activities by LEP persons. While designed to be a flexible and fact-dependent standard, the starting point is an individualized assessment that balances the following four factors:

  • The number or proportion of LEP persons eligible to be served or likely to be encountered by the program;
  • The frequency with which LEP individuals come in contact with the program;
  • The nature and importance of the program, activity, or service provided by the program to people’s lives; and
  • The resources available to the grantee/recipient or agency, and costs.

6.Q: Do recipients of federal funds have to submit written language access plans to their federal funding agency each year?
A: No. While planning is an important part of ensuring that reasonable steps are taken to provide meaningful access to LEP individuals seeking services, benefits, information, or assertion of rights, there is no blanket requirement that the plans themselves be submitted to federal agencies providing federal financial assistance. In certain circumstances, such as in complaint investigations or compliance reviews, recipients may be required to provide to federal agencies a copy of any plan created by the recipient.

7.Q: What is the difference between interpretation and translation?
A: Interpretation involves the immediate communication of meaning from one language (the source language) into another (the target language). An interpreter conveys meaning orally, while a translator conveys meaning from written text to written text.

Professional interpreters and translators are subject to specific codes of conduct and should be well-trained in skills, ethics, and the subject-matter language. Those utilizing the services of interpreters and translators should request information about certification, assessments taken, qualifications, experience, and training. Quality of interpretation should be a focus of concern for all recipients.

8.Q: When developing plans and guidance regarding translation of documents, how do we determine which documents must be translated? 
A: It is important to ensure that written materials routinely provided in English also are provided in regularly encountered languages other than English. It is particularly important to ensure that vital documents are translated into the non-English language of each regularly encountered LEP group eligible to be served or likely to be affected by the program or activity. A document will be considered vital if it contains information that is critical for obtaining federal services and/or benefits, or is required by law. Vital documents may include, for example: applications, consent and complaint forms; notices of rights and disciplinary action; notices advising LEP persons of the availability of free language assistance; and letters or notices that require a response from the beneficiary or client. For instance, if a complaint form is necessary in order to file a claim with an agency, that complaint form would be vital. Non-vital information includes documents that are not critical to access such benefits and services. Advertisements of federal agency tours and copies of testimony presented to Congress that are available for information purposes would be considered non-vital information.

Vital documents must be translated when a significant number or percentage of the population eligible to be served, or likely to be directly affected by the program/activity, needs services or information in a language other than English to communicate effectively. For many larger documents, translation of vital information contained within the document will suffice and the documents need not be translated in their entirety.

It may sometimes be difficult to draw a distinction between vital and non-vital documents, particularly when considering outreach or other documents designed to raise awareness of rights or services. Though meaningful access to a program requires an awareness of the program’s existence, we recognize that it would be impossible, from a practical and cost-based perspective, to translate every piece of outreach material into every language. Title VI does not require this of recipients of federal financial assistance, and Executive Order 13166 does not require it of federal agencies. Nevertheless, because in some circumstances lack of awareness of the existence of a particular program may effectively deny LEP individuals meaningful access, it is important to continually survey/assess the needs of eligible service populations in order to determine whether certain critical outreach materials should be translated into other languages.

9.Q: Does the Executive Order apply to materials on websites?
A: Yes. However, the decision to place something on the web will not affect whether the document must be translated. For example, placement on the website should not change an agency’s or a recipient’s original assessment regarding the number or proportion of LEP persons that comprise the intended audience for that document.

The four-factor analysis applies to each individual “document” on the website. Generally, entire websites need not be translated, as only the vital information/documents within the website might need translation. If, in applying the four-factor analysis, an agency or a recipient determines that a particular document/piece of information should be translated, that translation should also be posted on the website if the English-language version is on the website. If documents are translated within a website, the existence of the translation should be noted (in the appropriate language) at an initial entry point to the site (usually the homepage).

10.Q: If a federal agency contracts with a private or other entity to conduct certain activities of the agency, does the Executive Order apply to the activities of the contractor?
A: Yes. When a different entity conducts certain activities for a federal agency, then the Executive Order applies to the entity’s activities. An agency should ensure that the entity knows the general standards for LEP access and applies the agency’s plan to the activities it is conducting on behalf of the agency.

11.Q: What do recipients of federal financial assistance do if they are operating in a state or locality that has an English-only or official English law that requires the use of English in communications?
A*: All recipients of federal funds and all federal agencies are required by law to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to limited English proficient persons. This means that, even if recipients operate in jurisdictions in which English has been declared the official language under state or local law, these recipients continue to be subject to federal nondiscrimination requirements, including those applicable to the provision of federally assisted services to persons with limited English proficiency.

All recipients should be aware that despite the state’s or local jurisdiction’s official English law, Title VI and the Title VI regulations apply. Thus, recipients must provide meaningful access for LEP persons. State and local laws may provide additional obligations to serve LEP individuals, but cannot compel recipients of federal financial assistance to violate Title VI.

For instance, given our constitutional structure, state or local “English-only” or official English laws do not relieve an entity that receives federal funding from its responsibilities under federal nondiscrimination laws. Entities in states and localities with “English-only” or official English laws are certainly not required to accept federal funding – but if they do, they have to comply with Title VI, including its prohibition against national origin discrimination by recipients of federal assistance. Failing to make federally assisted programs and activities accessible to individuals who are LEP may violate Title VI and the Title VI regulations.

*Sources for Answer 11: 67 Fed Reg 41455 at 41459 and 41468 (June 18, 2002); Commonly Asked Questions and Answers About Executive Order 13166, Answer 8 (