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Your Right to an Interpreter

Do I have the right to an interpreter when I go to DTA (the welfare office)?

Yes. If you are not completely fluent in English, you have the right to an interpreter every time that you go to the welfare office. It does not matter what your native language is. The welfare office is supposed to give you an interpreter.

If you need an American Sign Language interpreter, the welfare office should give you one.  

What if I can speak a little bit of English?

You still have the right to an interpreter. If you are more comfortable in your native language than in English, you have the right to an interpreter. You need to understand everything your worker says, and your worker needs to understand everything that you say. Otherwise, there might be problems with your case.

How do I ask for an interpreter?

Tell the receptionist or your worker that you need an interpreter.

If they can not understand you, they should show you an "I Speak" card. This is a card that has many languages listed on it. If you see your language, point to it so the receptionist or worker will know which language you need an interpreter to speak. If they still can not understand you, they should use the "Language Line" to get help over the phone figuring out which language you need.

Do I have to pay anything for the interpreter?

No. The welfare office must pay for the interpreter.

What if the welfare office makes me wait because I need an interpreter?

The welfare office should not make you wait a long time for an interpreter.

If you are there to apply for benefits, they are supposed to let you apply the same day that you walk in, even if you need an interpreter.

If you just need to speak to your worker, your worker should find an interpreter. If your worker can not find an interpreter, he or she should call the "Language Line" for an interpreter to talk to you over the phone.

What about when I call my worker on the phone?

Your worker should do one of three things: find an interpreter in her office, use the Language Line to get an interpreter on a three way phone call with you, or schedule a time to call you back with an interpreter. If you agree that it is not an emergency, the worker should call you back within a day or two. If it is an emergency, the worker should find a way for an interpreter to speak to you the same day.

Can I get written documents, like applications and notices, in my language?

If you speak Spanish, the welfare office has forms and notices that are written in your language. Let your worker know that you want forms and notices in Spanish.

If you speak a different language that is spoken by many people in the area you live, the welfare office is supposed to translate forms and notices into your language but may not have done it yet. If this is the case, you may want to call your local Legal Services office and ask for help getting your local welfare office to translate these forms for you.

If you speak a language that is not spoken by many people in your area, the welfare office does not have to give you forms and notice in your language. But the welfare office is supposed to tell you what the forms and notices say.

Do I have the right to an interpreter at the Career Center?

Yes. Ask for an interpreter if you can not understand all of what is being said by a worker at the Career Center or in a training class. If the Career Center does not give you an interpreter, tell your welfare worker and call a Legal Aid office for assistance.

If I am in a shelter, do I have the right to an interpreter at the shelter?

Yes. You have the right to an interpreter at the shelter whenever you need to speak to shelter staff.

I got a notice denying, cutting, or stopping my benefits. Can I get help filing an appeal, and will I get an interpreter at the hearing?

If you get a notice from the welfare office saying that your benefits will be cut or stopped, you can file an appeal by filling out a form on the other side of the notice.

If you need help understanding the form, call your worker to ask for an interpreter to translate it for you. You can fill out the appeal form in your own language, or ask the interpreter to translate your answers.

You also have the right to an interpreter at the appeal hearing, so that you can explain why your benefits should not be denied, cut, or stopped. Call the Division of Hearings to let them know you need an interpreter.  The phone number for the Division of Hearings is 1-800-882-2017, and the TTY is1-800-532-6238 or 617-348-5337.

What if the welfare office does not give me an interpreter?

Ask the worker or the worker's supervisor to look at "Field Operations Memo 2005-34," which was written by welfare office officials. This memo explains that welfare offices have to give people interpreters when people need them.

If the welfare office, career center, or shelter still will not get you an interpreter,

Report it to the Massachusetts Language Access Coalition

call your local Legal Aid office for help.

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated January, 2008

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