Assemblymember Chiu and Advocates Announce New EDD Language Access Resources and Reforms

Employment Development Department will receive $21 million to expand language services

San Francisco, CA—Assembly member David Chiu (D-San Francisco) joined Asian and Pacific Islander advocacy organizations today to announce new funding to ensure Californians with limited English proficiency (LEP) can obtain unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Assembly Bill 138, a budget trailer bill signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on July 16, provides $21 million to the Employment Development Department (EDD) to implement reforms and expand language services.

“Workers are legally entitled to unemployment insurance benefits, no matter what language they speak,” said Assembly member Chiu. “During this pandemic, these benefits are critical. They are the difference between putting food on the table or going hungry. Every Californian should be able to access them. This $21 million budget allocation means the seven million Californians with limited English proficiency will be treated equally by EDD.”

“As a result of community members standing up and speaking out, we’re celebrating a historic $21 million investment in language. We must take this community-led achievement as a call to action to keep going until all Californians are fully respected and recognized by our public services, including meaningful improvements to language access at EDD,” said Victoria Chan, community advocate at Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus. “Just last week, I spoke with a Chinese grandma who paid a broker hundreds of dollars because she couldn’t get through EDD’s phone lines. She has no other recourse because she doesn’t speak or read English. To be a state that’s welcoming to and uplifts all residents, the work must continue until everyone can get the help they need, no matter what language they speak or read.”

“I have encountered many community members that experienced challenges like mine when applying for unemployment benefits due to the pandemic,” said Ah Yi, CAA Outreach Specialist and limited-English proficient community member. “Our calls to the EDD Chinese hotline line were left unanswered, even after numerous attempts at all hours of the day. Not only is a lot of our time wasted, but we feel anxious about the lack of support that could have otherwise provided for our basic necessities”

“For California’s seven million non-English speaking residents, EDD continues to provide a critical economic lifeline amid the coronavirus pandemic,” said Sally Chen, Economic Justice Manager at Chinese for Affirmative Action. “This historic investment will ensure fairer and more equitable access to life-sustaining benefits for the people who need it most. Thank you to the broad coalition of community leaders, concerned citizens, and elected officials for joining us in the fight for language access, and for sending a message to monolingual communities: that our state’s public services must be inclusive of all Californians — no matter who they are, where they come from, or which language they speak.”

Over the course of the pandemic, millions of Californians have struggled to access unemployment benefits from EDD, leaving many vulnerable without income or recourse during a pandemic and recession.

While accessing unemployment benefits can be a frustrating months-long process for any Californian, those difficulties are compounded for the seven million Californians with limited English proficiency (LEP). In fact, the challenges are so significant that the Governor’s strike team report concluded that UI claimants who do not speak English face “insurmountable barriers” to receiving benefits. These barriers are felt acutely by the 2.4 million Californians who speak a language other than Spanish or English.

The reforms and funding included in AB 138 alleviate these issues by requiring EDD to translate the UI online interface and create an online multi-lingual access portal in the top seven languages spoken in California aside from English. Additionally, all vital documents must be translated into the top 15 languages spoken.

The bill creates a number of standards and processes to accommodate LEP applicants. These include providing language interpreters in real time, ensuring deadlines are extended for LEP applicants if EDD is delayed in providing language access services, and initiating marketing and communications campaigns to engage LEP communities. AB 138 creates a multilingual access coordinator position within EDD to oversee these new services and instructs EDD to produce a report to the legislature by July 1, 2022. To implement these policies, EDD will receive a $21 million budget allocation.

The provisions in AB 138 became effective on July 16, when the bill was signed into law by Governor Newsom.

In response to the growing problems LEP claimants faced at EDD, Assemblymember Chiu and workers’ advocates introduced Assembly Bill 401 in February. A majority of the reforms AB 401 sought were included in this recent budget trailer bill that was passed. AB 401 is supported by a broad coalition and sponsored by Legal Aid at Work, Center for Workers’ Rights, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – California, and Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project.

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Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) is a community-based civil rights organization in San Francisco. Our mission is to protect the civil and political rights of Chinese Americans and to advance multiracial democracy in the United States. We advocate for systemic change that protects immigrant rights, promotes language diversity, and remedies racial injustice.

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