By Michele Weaver, RCAC rural development specialist – housing

If you were fortunate enough to attend one of the webinars U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development hosted you heard that one of the misconceptions of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) persons is that they are racially or ethnically diverse. However, it surprised me to find out that LEP persons are actually defined as individuals who not only do not speak English as their primary language, but they also must have a limited ability to read, write or understand English. It is this limited proficiency that can seriously impair their access to critical services. It does not include hearing or visual impairments.

On January 29, USDA set forth an implementation strategy to ensure that persons with LEP have meaningful access to programs and activities receiving federal funding assistance from USDA Rural Development. The implementation strategy facilitates Executive Order 13166 signed by President Bill Clinton, “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency.”

Rural Development’s implementation strategy outlines a four-factor analysis that includes: gathering the number and proportion of LEP persons served in your service area, the frequency in which LEP persons come in contact with your programs, the importance of the programs to LEP persons, and the resources available to your organization and costs. When completing the analysis you can find the information for the population that “speak English less than very well” under American Fact Finder data set b16001. Also, be sure you compare the size of the LEP group to your population to determine whether or not it is necessary to translate vital documents.

You will need to affirmatively verify you have received and will comply with the LEP requirements. But, the good news is that the Rural Development national office is not requiring a review of these plans and if you currently have an LEP plan or Language Access Plan (LAP) in house for another program you do not need to reinvent the wheel. A brief examination by your office to make sure your plan meets the criteria found on should meet the requirements necessary.