Jul. 3, 2023 By Carlotta Mohamed
Congresswoman Grace Meng hosted a roundtable discussion with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to highlight the expansion of language access programs and health care for immigrant communities on Friday, June 30.
Meng and Becerra met with officials from Queens-New York City immigration advocacy organizations for the roundtable discussion at the Glow Cultural Center, located at 133-29 41st Ave. in Flushing. Becerra’s visit was during Immigrant Heritage Month. It followed his trip to Queens this past March, during which he and Meng participated in a community conversation at NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens in Jamaica to mark National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day.
“Prioritizing and promoting equitable access to language assistance for health services to people with limited English proficiency is crucial for our immigrant neighborhoods, and I am excited to partner with Secretary Becerra on this effort,” Meng said. “I thank the Secretary for returning to Queens to shine a light on the importance of language accessibility in our health care system. I was proud to welcome him back and look forward to continuing to work with him on this issue. I also thank all the immigration advocates who joined us.”
As Secretary of HHS, which works to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans, Becerra serves as a member of President Biden’s cabinet and the Senate confirmed him for the position in March 2021.
During the roundtable discussion, Becerra shared how he had to translate for his parents when they needed to see a doctor.
“While I am proud to have been able to help, no child should have to feel the weight of translating complex medical terminology,” Becerra said. “And no parent should have to share their private medical history with their young child. Our parents, our communities need to be able to access health care in a manner that they understand.”
Language accessibility and culturally competent health care for those with limited English proficiency are issues that Meng and HHS have worked on for years.
For many in immigrant communities, such as those in Queens and the rest of the New York area, the availability of information in languages other than English is essential for proactive engagement with the health care system, as well as with federal programs.
This was underscored during the COVID-19 pandemic, where many local residents faced barriers to accessing the federal government’s COVID-19 related materials that were only available in English. That is why Meng introduced the COVID-19 Language Access Act that would require any federal agency receiving coronavirus-related funding to translate written materials into many different languages.
Meng is also working to ensure that community health centers in New York and across the country have the resources necessary to attract qualified mental health personnel that can provide in language care to patients who would be best served in languages other than English.
The congresswoman also secured grant funding during the last two fiscal years for the Office of Minority Health to facilitate the research and development of alternative methods of informing limited English-proficient individuals of their ability to request in language services.