Anchorage Assembly members say they want to get more information from various city departments on how they’re meeting equity and language access goals.
Under federal law, local governments have to provide resources to help people who aren’t proficient in English, and the Assembly will consider a proposal Tuesday that aims to ensure the departments are in compliance. The proposed ordinance would require an annual review by the Equal Opportunity Office and it would task the Purchasing Department with making sure contracts are accessible.
Midtown Assembly member Felix Rivera co-sponsored the ordinance. He said he heard that many Anchorage residents who didn’t speak English fluently could not easily access city information during the pandemic.
“There was so much information that was coming out all the time, and some communities that have limited English proficiency not being able to digest and access that information,” Rivera said. “And that trend has continued.”
During a work session Friday, officials with Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration said the city is currently in federal compliance when it comes to language access. However, Rivera said, at one point years ago, the city was out of compliance and lost federal funding.
“We can lose out on millions of dollars in federal funds,” Rivera said. “And in fact, just at the work session today, we were told 10 years ago we lost out on federal funds. They took them back because we were not compliant with the federal program.”
The ordinance would also change code around the Office of Equity and Justice, which was established in 2020 to examine how the city addresses systemic inequities in areas like education, employment and health. It would require the chief equity officer to provide the Assembly with semiannual reports on baseline equity data and how well the department is doing at reaching its goals.
The ordinance also would make the Office of Equal Opportunity and the Purchasing Department responsible for ensuring compliance with federal requirements around “socially and historically disadvantaged” small businesses.
Speaking on behalf of the Bronson administration, Assistant Municipal Attorney Meagan Berger described the ordinance as “unnecessary” and “duplicative.” She said the Office of Equity and Justice regularly compiles reports for the administration.
East Anchorage Assembly member George Martinez, who also co-sponsored the ordinance, said those reports aren’t regularly shared with the Assembly.
“I would love to make sure that they are not optional anymore,” Martinez said. “That we do actually have those data points that help us have better policy, driving the equity outcomes and language access that we want and we need.”
The Assembly is set to hear public testimony and vote on the ordinance at its Tuesday night meeting.