Spanish speakers dominate Dallas’ LEP caseload. In addition, Vietnamese-speaking applicants comprise a significant share of the balance of the LEP applicants in the city. At the time of our site visit in Summer 2001, the welfare agency employed few bilingual staff — for all language groups served — and these staff were concentrated in a specialized unit in downtown Dallas that only served refugees.5 However, refugee applicants were not matched with bilingual eligibility workers who could communicate in their primary language, thereby mitigating some of the advantages of concentrating bilingual staff in a single location.
Within the non-refugee welfare offices, the lack of bilingual staff results in heavy reliance on applicants to provide their own interpreters. Although they have access to a private language line, some staff in local offices reported that they are reluctant to use the service because of a lack of speakerphones in the office (without which they must hand the receiver back and forth to the applicant). To bolster the supply of language interpretation services, the downtown Dallas office uses high school students to provide language services during the school year, but they are unavailable during the summer. Generally, CBO staff from refugee resettlement agencies are relied upon only to provide language assistance for the refugees they help to resettle — the same group that is also most likely to be served by bilingual agency staff through the specialized refugee unit.
Although not provided by the welfare agency, language assistance is available for Spanish-speaking LEP applicants who access Medicaid-only benefits at the main public hospital in Dallas. The hospital employs Spanish-speaking bilingual financial counselors, who screen patients for Medicaid eligibility. The hospital also employs Spanish-speaking interpreters who provide interpretation during Medicaid eligibility interviews conducted on-site by out-stationed eligibility workers employed by the welfare agency.