The state’s Employment Development Department (EDD) will drastically expand language support to better accommodate the at least 7 million Californians who have a first language other than English.
This announcement comes after nearly two years of legal mediation between EDD and advocacy groups around gaps in EDD’s language accommodations that advocates say put many Californians in very vulnerable positions. The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) filed the initial complaint that triggered this mediation, alleging that EDD was in violation of federal and state antidiscrimination mandates related to national origin, ethnic identification and linguistic characteristics.
EDD has been expanding its language support throughout the course of the pandemic with tens of millions in funding through a language-access budget proposal and AB 138, a state bill that tackled unemployment insurance policies and practices. However, the agency’s website and other services are still considerably more accessible for English and Spanish speakers when at least 2.4 million Californians aren’t primary English or Spanish speakers.
According to advocates, an untold number of their clients resorted to paying third parties — who could often have predatory intentions — to help bridge these language support gaps.
"We had somebody who waited seven months [for benefits] and they never even submitted his application," said Marisa Lundin, legal director of the Indigenous Program at California Rural Legal Assistance.
"Sometimes the companies would create [alternate] email addresses for them — hold their usernames and passwords hostage," added Joann Lee, special counsel with LAFLA. "They had to constantly pay to go back. Some were requiring a percentage of the benefits every time."
The agreement is also being memorialized through a court filing — meaning the groups involved are basically filing a lawsuit, and then settling with EDD. It's intended to hold EDD accountable for implementing adjustments that will ensure Californians who aren’t primary English speakers will be better able to secure the support they need, through direct communication with EDD, going forward.