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Complaint against NC employment division says language interpretation services lacking

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Lack of interpretation services has made unemployment benefits more difficult to access by limited English speakers, according to a complaint filed by advocacy groups.

An administrative complaint filed against the North Carolina Division of Employment Security alleges inadequate access to language services for individuals with limited English proficiency.

The situation has slowed the processing of unemployment benefits. Advocates say that equates to discrimination based on nationality.

The complaint to the U.S. Department of Labor was brought on behalf of the Hispanic Liaison of Chatham County, where executive director Ilana Dubester says volunteer interpreters have worked to fill the void.

“There are so many communities across North Carolina that don't have a Hispanic Liaison or another Hispanic center that they could ask for help from,” Dubester said. “This is part of why we partnered with nonprofit law firms to still file this complaint.”

The issue has been taken on by the ACLU of North Carolina, the North Carolina Justice Center and the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

Meghan Lucas, an attorney with the Charlotte center, points out that failure to provide interpretation resources to access public services is a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“It's very important that people are both given access to the language services and that the interpreters are trained specifically for unemployment benefits or else people will be denied when they should be entitled to these government benefits,” Lucas said.

Since the start of the pandemic, it’s been difficult to access language services at the Employment Security Division, says attorney Carol Brooke with the North Carolina Justice Center.

“Our hope is that DES will recognize that steps are going to need to be taken, whether funding is obtained from the Department of Labor or not, and that the state of North Carolina will help them come into compliance,” Brooke said.

The Department of Labor will need to investigate the concerns to determine the next steps.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte.