Gov. Maura Healey marked the upcoming Hispanic Heritage Month with a mariachi band, a visit from diplomats and a new directive for state agencies to improve how they reach residents with limited English proficiency.
During a meeting of her Latino Advisory Council Wednesday, Healey signed an executive order that tasks all the agencies, departments and offices under her purview with assessing what languages are spoken by the people they serve and finding ways to knock down language barriers.
“Government is no good if people can’t use it, if people aren’t able to access it,” Healey said. “And we don’t want a language barrier to be a reason that people aren’t able to get the services or access government in the way that they’re entitled to.”
One in four Massachusetts residents speaks a language other than English at home, according to the Healey administration.
Under the order, state agencies have 120 days to submit language access plans to Healey’s team, outlining their translation practices, capacity to deliver services in other languages, and specific actions or policy changes they’ll pursue to improve access. Healey’s office published the executive order in Spanish and Portuguese as well as English.
The governor also issued a proclamation declaring Hispanic Heritage Month in Massachusetts to be Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
Healey formally signed the proclamation during a State House celebration that featured a performance by New England’s only all-female mariachi band, founded by Boston’s Veronica Robles. Consuls general from Mexico, Colombia and Honduras were on hand for the event, Healey said.
The governor drew applause from the crowd when she announced her language access order. She said the move was about “creating more opportunities so that communities get the services they need and are able to access their government.”
“And it is their government, alongside any other resident in our state,” Healey said.
A bill pending in the state Legislature would also call for language access plans from state agencies. That bill, dubbed the Language Access and Inclusion Act, additionally would require all public-facing agencies to make their websites and key documents available in at least 11 languages.
Elizabeth Sweet, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said a “crucial element” of the bill is that it includes “enforcement mechanisms that ensure agencies swiftly introduce language access.” Sweet cheered Healey’s order in a statement, and said enforcement tools would help “make the most of this reform.”
“The expansion of language access at public-facing state agencies will make it easier for the hundreds of thousands of non-English language speakers across the Commonwealth to access vital state services,” Sweet said.