Spanish-speakers comprise the overwhelming share of the limited English proficient caseload in Raleigh. Although the city has become home to an increasing number of refugees, other language speakers make up only a small share of limited English proficient applicants. This has made it difficult for the welfare agency to justify expenses of in-house or contract translators for these applicants. As a result, the primary methods of providing language services differ starkly for Spanish-speaking and non-Spanish-speaking individuals.
For Spanish-speaking LEP individuals, the welfare agency hired a number of new bilingual receptionists and eligibility workers, placing them in areas where they are most needed — for example, the public health clinic. There are Spanish-speaking receptionists at the front desk for handling food stamp and Medicaid/SCHIP applications in the main social services building, as well as in the building housing the public health clinics.
As of Summer 2001, there was greater capacity to provide language assistance to Medicaid/SCHIP applicants than either TANF/FSP/Medicaid or food stamp-only applicants. At the public health clinic, the place where most SCHIP/Medicaid applications in Raleigh are taken, there were sufficient numbers of Spanish-speaking eligibility workers — as well as a pool of agency-hired interpreters. At the main welfare office, food stamp-only and Medicaid/SCHIP eligibility determination interviews were held for Spanish speaking applicants only two days per week, at which time Spanish-speaking eligibility workers conducted eligibility determination interviews. For TANF applicants, there was only one Spanish language interpreter — a temporary employee — located at the main welfare office to provide interpretation services. Wait times for this interpreter could run up to two weeks, although waits of only a few days were more common.7 Bilingual staff were hired since our visit and, as of April 2002, there were sufficient bilingual staff to hold eligibility interviews five days a week for Medicaid/SCHIP and food stamp-only cases.
For those who are not proficient in English or Spanish, there is no agency-based language assistance. If these applicants are refugees, they generally rely on family or friends. The refugee resettlement agency had plans to increase its language capacity by hiring an interpreter coordinator and setting up an interpreter pool in the Raleigh area. It was expected that interpreters would be paid on an hourly basis for all agency appointments scheduled through the interpreter coordinator. At the time of our visits, however, applicants speaking languages other than Spanish relied heavily on the language assistance of family or friends.