A proposal is moving forward to spend millions of tax dollars translating government information into the 15 most common non-English languages spoken in the Garden State.

The legislation, S2459, sponsored by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, would require New Jersey to provide vital documents and translation services in the following languages:

  • Arabic
  • Gujarati
  • Polish
  • Urdu
  • Cajun French
  • Russian
  • Haitian
  • Tagalog
  • Vietnamese
  • Portuguese
  • Italian
  • Hindi
  • Mandarin
  • Cantonese
  • Spanish

Helping immigrants

Amy Torres, the executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said many people who rely on state programs may struggle with English, and mandating this kind of language access would mean “there’s a uniform experience and a uniform expectation that when I speak with the state, I’m heard. I’m able to access those programs with confidence.”

Demonstrators who support driver's licenses for immigrants not legally in the United States march in Trenton on Sept. 6, 2018. (Michael Symons/Townsquare Media NJ)
Demonstrators who support driver's licenses for immigrants not legally in the United States march in Trenton on Sept. 6, 2018. (Michael Symons/Townsquare Media NJ)

Laura Bustamante, the policy and campaign manager for the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, noted the diversity of the state.

“The number of immigrants in our communities continues to grow, and with that comes this beautiful diversity, and we should fight to be more fair and welcoming," she said.

Should we spend millions on this?

State Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, said he believes the legislation is well-intentioned but he’s concerned this kind of effort will be expensive, and the federal dollars that would be used for this will not continue to be allocated.

He also wondered whether this would be the best use of American Rescue Plan funding that has been allocated to New Jersey.

He said more than two years after the pandemic started, “our state has a lot of things that are broken and are in severe need of fixing, the Motor Vehicle Commission, the unemployment insurance fund, infrastructure for unemployment, all of these things need massive upgrades.”

What about helping small businesses?

Testa also said we lost a third of our small businesses during the pandemic, “and my understanding is one-third of the businesses that are left are struggling to keep their doors open.

Closed sign hanging in business window
Susan Vineyard

Testa pointed out many schools have suffered massive budget cuts, and he said we should be assisting those especially smaller school districts.

He said another area of great concern is to make sure all parts of the state have enough internet access so that if the COVID pandemic spikes again and schools have to go remote, that all students will have access to virtual learning platforms.

Speaking the language of everyday people

Torres said there are some language requirements in place covering some programs and documents in certain agencies, but there is no uniformity.

She said many official state documents may be difficult for people born and raised in New Jersey to completely understand, and for those born in other countries “it takes years of rigorous study to gain the proficiency that’s needed to navigate those documents in confidence and be able to ask questions about them.”

She added having this kind of broad translation would help to keep immigrant communities better informed, especially in times of emergency.

“This makes sure that the state is speaking the language of everyday people, and that as soon a program is signed into law that it has immediate effect in the communities that it was designed for.”

Torres noted U.S. Treasury Department guidance on how funding should be used specifically says the money from the American Rescue Plan should be used to fight the disparities that made the pandemic so acute for some communities over others, so it’s absolutely appropriate to use this funding for language accessibility.

Testa pointed out the measure calls for state government information in New Jersey to be translated into more languages than any other state in the nation.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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A trip to New Jersey doesn't have to be all about the beach. Our state has some incredible trails, waterfalls, and lakes to enjoy.

From the Pine Barrens to the Appalachian Trail to the hidden gems of New Jersey, you have plenty of options for a great hike. Hiking is such a great way to spend time outdoors and enjoy nature, plus it's a great workout.

Before you go out on the trails and explore some of our listeners' suggestions, I have some tips on hiking etiquette from the American Hiking Society.

If you are going downhill and run into an uphill hiker, step to the side and give the uphill hiker space. A hiker going uphill has the right of way unless they stop to catch their breath.

Always stay on the trail, you may see side paths, unless they are marked as an official trail, steer clear of them. By going off-trail you may cause damage to the ecosystems around the trail, the plants, and wildlife that live there.

You also do not want to disturb the wildlife you encounter, just keep your distance from the wildlife and continue hiking.

Bicyclists should yield to hikers and horses. Hikers should also yield to horses, but I’m not sure how many horses you will encounter on the trails in New Jersey.
If you are thinking of bringing your dog on your hike, they should be leashed, and make sure to clean up all pet waste.

Lastly, be mindful of the weather, if the trail is too muddy, it's probably best to save your hike for another day.

I asked our listeners for their suggestions of the best hiking spots in New Jersey, check out their suggestions:

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