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Issue Alert - DHHS specialist must assist those with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) in applying and participating in DHHS programs and services through the use of an interpreter

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Dec 27, 2015

Program Area:

All Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) public assistance programs

Issue Summary:

DHHS specialist must assist those with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) in applying and participating in DHHS programs and services through the use of an interpreter

Persons Affected:

All applicants to and recipients of DHHS programs and services who are not fluent in English (have Limited English Proficiency (LEP))

For More Information:

Center for Civil Justice 436 S. Saginaw St., Suite 400 Flint, MI 48502 (810) 244-8044 Michigan Poverty Law Program 220 E. Huron #600A Ann Arbor, MI 48104 734-998-6100 ext. 117


Local DHHS offices have a responsibility in policy and under state and federal law to inform applicants and recipients of – and ensure they fully understand – their rights and responsibilities concerning all DHHS public assistance programs. DHHS also must assist any individual who asks for help completing forms or gathering verifications. This is especially true with applicants and recipients who are not fluent in English, otherwise known as having Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

What's Happening?

DHHS issued a policy regarding responsibilities in serving LEP applicants and recipients on January 1, 2014. Advocates should familiarize themselves with these policies, to ensure DHHS is consistently following the policies statewide.

  • DHHS must provide appropriate language interpreters to applicants and recipients with LEP to afford such opportunity, whether through DHHS itself or contract service providers and sub-recipients.  

  • Language interpreters must be provided in each type of applicant and recipient interaction, for example: over the telephone, in local offices, during intake interviews, for all types of service delivery, when applicants and recipients make complaints, etc.

  • Specifically, advocates and clients should be aware of the following requirements in the policy, and should be alert to situations in which policy is not followed:

    1. DHHS must first assess an individual’s need for an interpreter, and the preferred language or communication method, from the individual’s application, statements to that effect, or family members/other representative.

    2. The need for an interpreter must be recorded by DHHS in the individual’s file and reported to any applicable third party service providers. All subsequent interpretation services also must be documented.

    3. Once the need is identified, an interpreter must be provided within two (2) days of a client’s request “if at all possible,” but other arrangements must be made if there is an urgent/emergency situation, and an interpreter must be provided at all relevant interactions with the individual.

    4. The LEP individual must be informed that either DHHS will arrange and pay for the interpreter, or the individual may choose her or his own adult interpreter (with DHHS approval). Policy specifically states minor children may not serve as language interpreters.

    5. “When at all possible,” DHHS must provide interpreters who are physically present with the individual or at the DHHS office, not remote telephone interpreters. A DHHS applicant or recipient who does not choose an interpreter of his/her own cannot refuse services of a DHHS employee under the policy, but can decline the services of a volunteer interpreter from outside of DHHS.

    6. The policy states that interpreters must be demonstrated competent, but need not be certified, based on the following criteria: proficiency in both applicable languages, specialized knowledge of the topic area being interpreted, the relevant cultural sensitivity, and an understanding of interpretation ethics and confidentiality. The policy does not indicate how these competencies are demonstrated to, or assessed by, DHHS.

What Should Advocates Do?

  1. Remind DHHS applicants and recipients, and LEP advocates, about this policy and inform them about this update.

  2. Help DHHS applicants and recipients who have LEP tell DHHS that they are not fluent and that they need an interpreter. In particular, assist clients in asking DHHS for help when needed to get information, fill out forms, or obtain verifications for any DHHS public assistance program. DHHS publishes Forms and Applications in English, Spanish, and Arabic online at,5885,7-339-71551_7338---,00.html.

  3. Be alert to, and document situations where, DHHS incorrectly “assesses” the need for an interpreter, refuses interpreter services, or does not provide a competent interpreter.

  4. Be alert to, and document situations where, DHHS refuses to accept Spanish or Arabic language forms.

  5. Be alert to, and document, automated telephone systems or voicemail systems that do not address the language needs of LEP clients.

  6. Be alert to, and document any substandard, inadequate, or incompetent interpreter services provided to clients.

  7. Help DHHS applicants and recipients request an administrative hearing and find legal advice if they need it, especially if they have been mistreated due to having LEP or have not been given assistance from DHHS when requested.

  8. Help LEP clients report situations in which DHHS policy is not followed or necessary interpreter or translation services are not provided.  Help clients DHHS applicants and recipients get legal help to file complaints with the appropriate federal authority – the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Food Assistance, and the U.S. Office for Civil Rights for Family Independence Program and Medicaid clients. See BAM 105 and Issue Alert 13-01-01 (January 3, 2013).

What Should Clients Do?

  1. Tell DHHS if you want an interpreter because English is not your first language.  Include this information on your DHHS application if possible. Ask DHHS for help when needed to get information, fill out forms, or obtain verifications for any DHHS public assistance program and English is not your first language. If you speak a little English but are not fluent, be sure to tell DHHS that you want an interpreter so that you will fully understand all DHHS rules and requirements.

  2. Request an administrative hearing and seek legal advice if you feel you have been mistreated because English is not your first language, or if you have not been given interpretation assistance from DHHS when requested.  

Finding Help

Most legal aid and legal services offices handle these types of cases, and they do not charge a fee. You can locate various sources of legal and related services, including the free legal aid office that serves your county, at You can also look in the yellow pages under "attorneys" or call the toll-free lawyer referral number, (800) 968-0738.

Advocates should contact the Center for Civil Justice at (810) 244-8044 to report difficulties clients with LEP experience in communicating with DHHS. Center for Civil Justice is tracking violations to assess whether this is a statewide issue.