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LYNN — The city will spend $800,000 over the next three years on language services to address an apparent need and comply with the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) requirement for community outreach and input.
The City Council voted unanimously during a meeting on Tuesday to approve the Language Engagement Specialist Initiative put forward by Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Faustina Cuevas and Chief Financial Officer Michael Bertino.
“It was very apparent that after housing, language access was a big concern,” said Cuevas.
Since starting her job in June, she has conducted meetings with several community members, looked at social-justice listening session transcripts from 2020, and talked to a few nonprofit organizations that serve underrepresented groups in Lynn.
People felt that they did not have access to staff speaking their language at City Hall or at other city services across Lynn, Cuevas said, including healthcare and housing, which prevented them from accessing such services.
Under the new pilot initiative, supported by Mayor Thomas M. McGee, the city will hire five language specialists, fluent in six languages: Arabic, Bengali, Khmer, Haitian Creol, Spanish and Portuguese. The city has already put out a Request For Proposals (RFP) to contract a host organization that could take care of hiring and all logistics.
The RFP that closed on Oct. 13 had very specific requirements: 10 years of experience with translation services and 20 years working with communities of color. The city has received an application from a well-known community nonprofit organization. Cuevas said the city will be able to reveal the name of the organization once they award the contract.
Language specialists will work 30 hours a week, spending half of their time on oral and written translation at the City Hall, helping Lynn residents with any issues. For the other half of the week, they will work with residents at the nonprofit organization, addressing their needs.
The approved $800,000 will be spent over three years on salaries and cellphones that will be used to answer calls from the residents.
The first job that these translators will be involved in will be engaging with the communities to demonstrate the need for ARPA funding, Cuevas said. This community outreach and community input are an ARPA requirement to access federal funds. At the same time, federal funding will help to continue supporting the community with language services.
Cuevas is hoping that the program will start working by the end of the year.
“It is long overdue and I think we are going to see a huge benefit for our community, making sure they are getting the services that they need and they are getting the information that they need in their preferred language,” Cuevas said.