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Pandemic Creates Barrier For Non-English Speakers Seeking Food Assistance

Seacoast Family Food Pantry of New Hampshire

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for immigrants and refugees in New Hampshire seeking federal food assistance.

Non-English speakers are supposed to have assistance in their native language when applying for those services under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. But state immigration advocates say those services aren't as accessible remotely and has stood in the way of some seeking food stamps or other benefits.

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“More training is needed. More awareness is needed. Renewal of commitment is constantly needed within organizations,” said Barbara Seebart, the state refugee coordinator at the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services.

Mary Georges is the president of Victory Women of Vision, an organization supporting New Hampshire's African communities. She says language assistance has mainly come from within the communities themselves, not from the state. Since the pandemic has started, more people have been approaching her and others within the organization for language help, she said.

"For the language barriers, you cannot reach them and you cannot talk to them. Before, they can come directly...to the office, but now it was not easy,” Georges said at a COVID-19 Equity Task Force meeting Friday.

Advocates also said the state needs to improve its outreach efforts in different languages during the pandemic to increase awareness about food services among the state's non-English speaking communities, especially given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.

“It really highlights the need for more community health workers because they can advocate, and everything is taking four times as long to take care of because we don’t have the immediacy of a face-to-face,” Seebart said.