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House Democrat unveils bill requiring coronavirus materials to be translated into multiple languages

House Democrat unveils bill requiring coronavirus materials to be translated into multiple languages
© Greg Nash

Rep. Grace MengGrace MengDemocrats see spike in turnout among Asian American, Pacific Islander voters Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Katherine Clark secures No. 4 leadership spot for House Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill Tuesday that would require all coronavirus information released by the federal government be provided in at least 19 languages. 

“It is unacceptable that federal agencies have not provided all these translations, but the passage of my bill would ensure that they finally do,” Meng said. “Language barriers must never prevent anybody from accessing vital and potentially life-saving information. Nobody should ever be left in the dark about the coronavirus, and providing these translations would be critical in our fight to combat the illness.”

The languages listed in the bill, including Hindi, Arabic, Thai and Haitian Creole, are based on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Language Access Plan for Disaster Assistance released in 2016.  

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has had Spanish and Simplified Chinese translations for its main COVID-19 website since March. As the pandemic has expanded across the country, it has added Korean and Vietnamese translations to its coronavirus materials. The White House coronavirus guidelines are still only available in English and Spanish.

The CDC does provide telephone services in more languages and certain coronavirus materials in up to 14 languages, though their main site and the bulk of their materials are in English. 

“It must be the job of our federal agencies to translate their own resources so that all ethnic and non-English speaking communities in Queens and throughout the country can receive the materials they require,” Meng, who represents one of the districts in New York City most impacted by the pandemic, said in a statement. 

 The push to produce coronavirus materials began over a month ago, when Rep. Judy ChuJudy May ChuHouse Democrats urge congressional leaders to support .1B budget for IRS Democratic Women's Caucus members split endorsements for House campaign chief DHS opens probe into allegations at Georgia ICE facility MORE (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, teamed up with Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) on March 13 to urge the CDC to make its information available in the top five languages spoken by those in the U.S. who have limited English proficiency.