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Your Right to an Interpreter

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed August 2023

Do I have the right to an interpreter when I am on the phone with DTA or go to a DTA office?

Yes. If it is hard for you to understand or speak English, you have the right to an interpreter anytime you talk to a DTA worker. It does not matter what your native language is. DTA must provide an interpreter — including an American Sign Language Interpreter or Certified Deaf Interpreter.  

What if I can speak a little bit of English?

You still have the right to an interpreter. If you are more comfortable in your native language than in English, you have the right to an interpreter. You need to understand everything the worker says, and the worker needs to understand everything that you say. Otherwise, there might be problems with your case.

How do I ask for an interpreter?

Tell the DTA person you talk to that you need an interpreter.

If they cannot understand you, if you are at the office they should show you an "I Speak" card. This is a card that has many languages listed on it. If you see your language, point to it so the receptionist or worker will know which language you need an interpreter to speak. If they still cannot understand you, they should use the "Language Line" over the phone to get help figuring out which language you need.

Do I have to pay anything for the interpreter?

No. DTA must pay for the interpreter.

What if DTA makes me wait because I need an interpreter?

DTA should not make you wait a long time for an interpreter.

If you call or go in person to apply for benefits, DTA must let you apply the same day, even if you need an interpreter.

If you just need to speak to a worker, the worker should find an interpreter. If the worker cannot find an interpreter, they should call the "Language Line" for an interpreter to talk to you over the phone.

What about when I call my worker on the phone?

Your worker should do one of 3 things: find an interpreter in their office, use the Language Line to get an interpreter on a three-way phone call with you, or schedule a time to call you back with an interpreter. If you agree that it isn't an emergency, the worker should call you back within a day or two. If it is an emergency, the worker should find a way for an interpreter to speak to you the same day.

Can I get written documents, like applications and notices, in my language?

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Right now, DTA forms and notices are only in English and Spanish. The online application, the DTA Assistance Line (877-382-2363), and some text messages are in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Vietnamese, and Chinese. Paper applications are in 13 languages. 

If you speak a language other than English or Spanish, call the DTA Assistance Line (877-382-2363) for help when you get any DTA form or notice in the mail. It is important to call DTA so you do not have an interruption to your benefits.

If I am in a shelter, do I have the right to an interpreter at the shelter?

Yes. You have the right to an interpreter at the shelter whenever you need to speak to shelter staff.

I got a notice denying, cutting, or stopping my benefits. Can I get help filing an appeal, and will I get an interpreter at the hearing?

If you get a notice from DTA saying that your benefits will be cut or stopped, you can file an appeal by filling out a form on the other side of the notice or by calling (617) 348-5321.

If you need help understanding the form, call DTA to ask for an interpreter to translate it for you. You can fill out the appeal form in your own language, or ask the interpreter to translate your answers. If you call to file an appeal, the person you talk to must provide an interpreter.

You also have the right to an interpreter at the appeal hearing, so that you can explain why your benefits should not be denied, cut, or stopped. Call the Division of Hearings to let them know you need an interpreter.  The phone number for the Division of Hearings is (617) 348-5321.

What if DTA does not give me an interpreter?

Ask to speak to a supervisor or manager. If that doesn't help, call the DTA Ombuds at 617-348-5354. If you still do not get help, file a complaint with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. Call the New England Regional FNS Office to learn more: 617-565-6424.

You can also contact your local Legal Aid office for help.

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