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For Persons With Limited English Proficiency

Limited English Proficency-- A Federal Interagency Website


Updated July 2008

Social Security's LEP Service Vision and Policy Elements

Social Security's Four Factor Analysis

Section I: Number or Proportion of LEP Individuals
Section II: Frequency of Contact with Program
Section III: Nature and Importance of the Program
Section IV: Resources

Plan Accomplishments


Name of Project: Social Security Administration's Plan for Providing Access to Benefits and Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Introduction: Section 2 of Executive Order 13166 requires Federal agencies to develop and implement a plan for improving access to services and participation in federally conducted programs and activities to LEP individuals. The Department of Justice (DOJ) requested that each Agency submit its plan to improve the language accessibility of its federally conducted programs and activities and to take steps to implement the plan. Social Security submitted its original LEP plan to DOJ on December 19, 2000. We updated our LEP plan in February 2003, September 2004, and July 2008.  According to DOJ, each Agency and each recipient of Federal financial assistance must take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to LEP individuals using a "4-factor" analysis. Factors that we consider when determining what constitutes reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to LEP individuals are the:
  • number or proportion of LEP persons in the eligible service population;
  • frequency with which LEP individuals come into contact with the program;
  • importance of the service provided by the program; and
  • resources available to the recipient.
Background:Social Security's efforts to improve services to increasing numbers of LEP individuals predate Executive Order 13166, issued in August 2000. In February 1995, Social Security chartered the LEP inter-component workgroup, which meets monthly and is responsible for Social Security’s LEP activities. In September 1995, the Commissioner approved Social Security’s LEP policy, principles and implementation plan. Since then, we have taken a proactive approach to implementing a comprehensive plan to provide access to program benefits and services to LEP individuals.

Social Security's LEP Service Vision and Policy Elements

Vision Statement: Social Security provides effective, efficient and equitable service to the public we serve. Members of the public have access to our services regardless of their ability to speak, read or write English. Service delivery options are available to LEP individuals, enabling them to communicate effectively with Social Security in person, over the phone, in writing or through electronic media.

Policy: We have taken a proactive approach to ensure access to the programs we administer to all of the American public by clarifying and distributing our LEP policy and procedures to make public contact employees and the public aware of our service delivery guidelines. Our policy ensures that individuals have access to our programs and services regardless of their ability to communicate with us in English. Social Security will provide an interpreter free of charge, to any individual requesting language assistance or, when it is evident that such assistance is necessary to ensure that the individual is not disadvantaged. We do not require individuals needing language assistance to provide their own interpreters.

Our LEP policy principles, approved in 1995, include the following elements: Resource Allocation - We will consider the needs of LEP individuals in all of Social Security policies and long-range business and strategic plans. We factor into the allocation of Social Security resources the service needs of LEP individuals and we adopt service delivery initiatives that we can fully fund.

Service Delivery -LEP individuals have access to Social Security's services through its network of 1,266 field offices (FOs) and the national 800 telephone number. Field offices develop strategies tailored to the needs of their communities to provide efficient and effective service.

Bilingual Staffing - The most effective method for providing quality service to LEP individuals is through bilingual public contact employees.

Qualified Interpreter Services - Social Security uses either qualified office interpreters or interpreters available through a national contract to provide telephone interpreters. If the LEP individual prefers to use his/her own interpreter, such as a family member, friend, or third party, Social Security will determine whether the interpreter meets our requirements. Generally, we will not permit a child under age 18 to serve as an interpreter due to the nature and complexities of our business processes.

Public Information - Social Security recognizes the value of public information to educate, improve access to our services, address LEP concerns, promote program integrity and build public confidence in the programs we administer. Social Security produces public information materials in languages other than English and uses national and local media to provide this information to LEP individuals.

Written Communications - In order to facilitate access to our programs and to improve administrative effectiveness, Social Security nationally produces written communications such as public information materials, notices and form letters, using the following criteria:

  • number of LEP beneficiaries/applicants;
  • number of impacted field offices;
  • literacy level in the non-English language;
  • anticipated demographic growth; and
  • cost-effectiveness--national vs. local

(See accomplishments for list of materials in languages beyond English) As a long-term goal, Social Security plans to produce automated notices in languages other than English and Spanish.

Listening to LEP Individuals - Social Security does focus group testing and we have an online comment and suggestion system in place to respond to the publics' concerns and comments. Better communication with LEP individuals:

  • increases an individual’s satisfaction when we provide service by bilingual/bicultural staff;
  • improves program integrity by eliminating fraud perpetrated by middlemen;
  • increases public understanding of our programs by providing information to individuals in a language they read, speak and understand; and
  • streamlines contacts by identifying the language preference at the initial contact, reducing the need for re-contacts.

Technology - When evaluating existing and new or emerging technologies, we consider the needs of LEP individuals

Training - Social Security provides training opportunities in cultural diversity for all employees, especially our public contact employees, so they can better serve LEP individuals. We also provide training to upgrade language skills for our bilingual employees for all major languages requested.

Monitoring Our Services - Social Security identifies and tracks LEP workload data on an ongoing basis at the national, regional and local levels to determine what the needs are and to allocate resources accordingly. We monitor our LEP policies and practices to ensure that they continue to be effective. Periodically, we reevaluate the language groups most represented among LEP individuals to determine shifts in the limited English speaking demands.


Social Security's Four Factor Analysis

Social Security is committed to providing LEP individuals equal access to services that we provide to members of the public who speak English. We recognize the diversity of the public and the need to be sensitive to their special needs. LEP individuals generally need more personal service, such as interpreter services for face-to-face or telephone interviews and assistance in translating documents across program lines.

Section I. Demography: Number or Proportion of LEP Individuals: Has your organization developed a demographic profile of the population served?
Yes. We began collecting and projecting the language preference for 26 languages as early as 1996. Using these projections, in fiscal year (FY) 2007, approximately 5.7 percent or 542,630 claimants preferred to be interviewed in a language other than English. Over 75 percent of our foreign language demand was for Spanish. Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin dialects) was 4.3 percent and Vietnamese was 1.4 percent. Capturing language preference through our automated processes ensures that we:

  • know the preferred languages of the individuals we serve;
  • know where the language demands are located; and
  • make informed staffing and resource allocation decisions.
The following is an array of the top five language preferences by workload category, which does not include the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, as of FY 2006:

Retirement Claims

Disability Insurance Claims

SSI Aged Claims





Vietnamese----- 1,174

Chinese-------- 10,834

Vietnamese ---- 4,988

Chinese -------- 1,120



ASL-------------- 534



Polish ------------459


SSI Blind and Disabled


Spanish----------------------- 97,606

Spanish--------------------- 801,021

Vietnamese------------------- 3,261


Chinese ------------------------2,426


Russian---- --------------------1,723

Haitian Creole----------------24,413



NOTE: The "Other" category represents languages not listed in the following chart for "SSI Recipient language preference collected since 1996". The highest percentage of foreign language demand is in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Aged applications. In FY 2007, almost 33.47 percent of the SSI Aged applicants preferred to have their interview in a language other than English. This represented over 92,534 applicants nationwide.

The following represents SSI recipient language preference collected since 1996:









Cantonese (Chinese)--------24,273



Portuguese-- ------------------2,350


Russian----------------------- 25,610















In June 2004, we expanded the number of language preferences for which we collect preference data from 27 to 90. Having the ability to collect additional language preference data on the populations we serve will allow us to place bilingual staff in strategic areas. This will enhance our ability to determine precisely where the language demands are located and make more informed staffing and resource allocation decisions. In addition, we plan to develop a strategy to identify the language preference for SSI beneficiaries who became eligible for SSI before we began collecting language preference.

Section II. Frequency of Contact with the Program: Does your organization collect/record primary language data for individuals who participate in your programs?
Yes. LEP individuals come into contact with Social Security on a daily basis: in person, by mail, phone or Internet, to apply for benefits, request services or ask questions about the programs we administer. The following represents the overall volume of specific workloads we processed in FY 2007:

Retirement and Survivors Insurance claims processed


SSI Aged claims processed


Initial disability insurance claims processed


Social Security Number requests processed


800 number calls by agent and automation handled


As noted above in Section I, we collect written and spoken language preference for individuals who apply for:

  • Retirement, Survivors and Disability Insurance;
  • Supplemental Security Income; and
  • Social Security Numbers.

Section III. Nature and Importance of the Program. In 1937, the Social Security Act established a program to help protect aged Americans against the loss of income due to retirement. In 1939, Congress added the protection for survivors of deceased workers, creating the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) program. Congress expanded Social Security again in 1956 to include the Disability Insurance (DI) program. Social Security’s responsibilities also include administration of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program added in 1972, and Special Benefits for Certain World War II Veterans (title VIII) added in 1999. Social Security provides social insurance protection for more than 142 million workers and their families. Though Social Security administers the programs listed above, we highlight the SSI program due to its high volume of language demand. See the chart in Section I, which lists the top five language preferences by workload category for FY 2003. Through this program, we pay monthly benefits to people with limited income and resources who are age 65 or older, blind or disabled. Blind or disabled children, as well as adults, can receive SSI. In most States, filing for and receiving SSI results in eligibility for Medicaid (medical assistance) to pay for hospital stays, doctor bills, prescription drugs and other health costs. Also, in most States, Food Stamp information and an application are provided to individuals applying for or receiving SSI. Thus, for LEP individuals, who are either age 65 or older, blind or disabled, Social Security plays a critical role in helping provide monthly benefit payments and linkages to medical and nutrition services.

Section IV. Resources.We have centralized management of the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income programs, the Office of Central Operations, and a decentralized nationwide network of 10 Regional Offices overseeing 1,266 Field Offices, 43 Tele-service Centers, 6 Program Service Centers. In addition, we have over 140 Hearing Offices, and 10 Regional Offices of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) overseen by OHA Headquarters.  As of October 2007, we have approximately 62,000 employees at Social Security. 80 percent work in direct contact positions. They work in our field offices, tele-service centers, processing centers and hearing offices. As an Agency, Social Security is uniquely positioned through its network of public contact offices to assist LEP populations. We direct resources to LEP activities in the form of:

  • hiring bilingual staff (125 out of 5,186 in FY 2007) where bilingual skills are needed;
  • providing for paid third-party interpreters ;
  • providing for contract translations and typesetting services ($477,780 in FY 2007) to produce foreign language public information material and training public contact employees ($247,183 in FY 2007).

We increased the number of direct service employees who can speak a language in addition to English. Our hiring initiatives have focused on achieving the right mix of employee language skills to serve LEP individuals. In FY 2007, we identified 7,804 Social Security bilingual and multilingual employees who possess the ability to speak one or more language skills, speaking 47 different languages and dialects. Since FY 2003, approximately 7 percent (1,618 out of 24,623) of all new hires (public contact employees, representing field office and tele-service centers) were bilingual or multilingual. When bilingual or multilingual employees are not available, we pay for third-party interpreters. The following chart represents actual expenditures for language interpreter and translator services for FO's and OHA:

Field Office

Office of Hearings and Appeals















2004 ----------------------- $531,917

2004 -----------------------  TBD 

2005 ----------------------- $515,116

2005 -----------------------  TBD

2006 ----------------------- $562,550

2006 -----------------------  TBD

2007 ----------------------- $477,780

2007 -----------------------  TBD

In addition, we spent $2,791,000 for the telephone interpreter contract in FY 2007. Tele-Interpreters is a private contractor that handles immediate telephone language interpretations for Social Security public contact employees. This service contract began on October 7, 2002, and it is available for use by all Operations, Disability Determination Service, Inspector General, Quality Assurance and Office of Hearings and Appeals public contact employees.

Plan Accomplishments

  • Hired 7,036 bilingual public contact employees since 1993;
  • Translated into Spanish SSA Pub. No. 05-10602 “Bias Poster” and
    SSA Pub. No. 05- 10071 “How to File an Unfair Treatment Complaint.”
  • Completed a national roll-out of the Spanish language prompt to our toll free number in April 2001;
  • Held a LEP Social Security conference to discuss best practices in 2001.
  • Participated as exhibitor and presenter at the 2007 Federal Interagency Working Group on Limited English Proficiency National Conference, held in March 2007 at the National Institute of Health Bethesda MD. 
  • Updated operating instructions for our Central Translations Staff in April 2008.
  • Produced a video-on-demand refresher training session for public contact employees in May 2008.
  • Implemented a National Telephone Interpreter Service in October 2002. Social Security contracted with Tele-Interpreters, a private language service company, which handles telephone interpretations for Social Security public contact employees. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week;
  • Provided for third-party interpreter services at a cost of $477,780 for our field offices and $2,450,925 for our hearing and appeals offices in FY 2007;
  • Developed two bilingual position descriptions in the Office of Appellate Operations in 2003 and 19 bilingual Hearing Office position descriptions in 2004, which we will fill as needed when vacancies occur.
  • Issued Spanish versions of hearing level notices in April 2004.
  • Provided written materials in languages other than English. Many public information materials are available in additional languages on our web site at: Public information materials we’ve completed in other languages include the following:

    • Retirement and Survivors Benefit fact-sheet: translated into: Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, French, Greek, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.
    • Disability Benefits fact-sheet: Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
    • Supplemental Security Income Rights and Responsibilities Handout: Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.
    • Special Benefits for WWII Veterans fact-sheet: Tagalog
    • Representative Payee Dedicated Accounts fact-sheet: Armenian, Chinese, Hmong, Korean, Laotian, Tagalog, Russian and Vietnamese.
    • A “Snapshot” of Social Security Programs translated into Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
    • Social Security Terminology Glossary: English-Spanish; English-Haitian Creole; English-Korean; English-Chinese and English-Vietnamese;
    • Translated 58 publications into Spanish, including Monthly Information Packages and Understanding Supplemental Security Income publication.

  • Maintained “En Español” web site, which contains over 100 Spanish public information materials;
    • Updated language skills of bilingual employees. Since this initiative began in FY 1997, over half of Social Security’s bilingual employees received training in medical and social welfare terminology;
    • Developed Interviewing Guides and training in Spanish, Vietnamese, Navaho, Polish, Chinese, Russian, Filipino languages, German, French, Haitian-Creole, Italian, Korean, Arabic and Portuguese; and
    • Translated, distributed and displayed "interpreter service policy" posters in our field offices. The poster contains the Social Security interpreter policy in 19 languages.
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Last reviewed or modified Friday Aug 29, 2008
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