Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Legal Aid Testifies at D.C. Agency Oversight Hearings

Yesterday, two Legal Aid staff attorneys, David Steib and Maggie Donahue, provided oral and written testimony to the District of Columbia Council’s Public Hearings on Agency Oversight. David Steib offered testimony to the Committee on Public Services and Community Affairs on the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA); Maggie Donahue offered testimony to the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development on the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA). 
 
Both David and Maggie raised concerns about the District agencies’ compliance with the 2004 D.C. Language Access Act, which is intended to ensure that all residents – regardless of the languages they speak – have meaningful access to the city’s services. Both DCRA and DCHA are considered “covered entities” under the Act.  David and Maggie also offered specific recommendations to bring DCRA and DCHA into compliance with the law and improve the agencies’ effectiveness in serving all District residents.
 

David Steib, Staff Attorney

David’s testimony focused on Legal Aid’s concern, based on its clients’ experiences, that DCRA may too often be failing to meet its interpretation and translation obligations under the Language Access Act. In one instance, a mono-lingual Spanish-speaking Legal Aid client was repeatedly denied her requests for interpretation services in her telephone communications with the agency, as well as in person, when DCRA employee came to her house to conduct an inspection. Moreover, David expressed concern that DCRA may be failing to comply with its obligations to provide tenants, regardless of the language they speak, with any copies whatsoever of housing inspection reports pertaining to their units.

Maggie Donahue, Staff Attorney

Maggie testified that DCHA may also be consistently failing to comply with its interpretation and written translation requirements under the Language Access Act. Like David’s, Maggie’s testimony described instances where limited- or non-English proficient District residents have informed Legal Aid that they are often forced to wait hours to be served, are asked to use their minor children as translators, and are sometimes told to just go home and come back another day when a staff member who has the capacity to serve them might be available. Some individuals who specifically requested language assistance were greeted with responses such as, “No, your English is good enough; we’re going to speak English,” and “You are in America now; we speak English here.”

 To access David Steib’s full testimony, click here ; to access Maggie Donahue’s full testimony, click here.

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