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Program Helps Non-Native English Speakers To Access PBGC Information

The agency's Limited English Proficiency Program translates vital information into 147 languages.

When someone contacts PBGC, the information they need to find or convey might be vital to their retirement needs, present or future. That information can sometimes be complex to begin with. The last thing that person needs is an additional language barrier.

So when someone with limited English skills needs translation help, he or she can get that help via the agency's Limited English Proficiency Program. Very often, this means working with the Foreign Languages Unit of PBGC's Benefits Administration and Payment Department.

"After you work for that pension, if you want to know how it's calculated, nothing is better than to have it in your own language," foreign languages coordinator Orfanny Vanegas said. "PBGC's Customer Contact Center has people that speak Spanish. If the caller speaks Chinese, Italian, any other language, we have a translation service that can help them."

But contact with the agency often goes well beyond an informational call by a plan participant.

"If they need documents, forms, benefit letters - whatever is needed - we translate it," Vanegas said. "If it's in Spanish, we do it here. But we have a contract to translate to any other language. We translate any type of letter or application, in the language they are asking for."

While it's obvious that limited English proficiency services can help the people PBGC serves, Vanegas explains that the program aids the Corporation in some ways that may not be immediately apparent.

"If people don't understand what we ask for, they won't be able to send us the documentation that is needed to begin their benefit payments. That means the payments will be delayed, two, three, even four months as we go back and forth. That doesn't happen anymore because we have great services now. That's no excuse now for it to be delayed."

Although the LEP program dates back to an Executive Order issued by President Clinton in 2000, the present Administration has stepped up the emphasis on helping people with limited English skills.

Earlier this year the Attorney General issued a memorandum requiring agencies to review and update their language assistance programs, with a six-month timeline to submit updated plans to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. Since PBGC's LEP program is publicized only on the website, which is managed by the Communications and Public Affairs Department, CPAD got the lead role in responding to the Attorney General's memorandum.

As called for in the memo, CPAD convened a Language Access Working Group representing the departments most contacted by people with language needs. The group included representatives of the Benefits Administration and Payment Department, the Financial Operations Department, the Human Resources Department, the Standard Termination Compliance Division, the Office of General Counsel, and the Procurement Department.

The group examined language assistance needs in a broad cross-section of the agency, and it confirmed that the existing LEP plan as last updated in 2006 was still largely accurate. Only a very small proportion of contacts with PBGC are from people who need assistance, and by and large Spanish is the language involved.  Consequently, the agency's review found that the plan's emphasis on helping Spanish speakers is appropriate.  However, the agency still ensures it's able to handle every requested language.

The working group did make some changes to update the existing LEP plan.  Among other improvements, the plan description now includes instructions on how to obtain language assistance in four different languages including variations of Portuguese, French, and Chinese. In addition, the working group will review the plan annually to make sure it continues to serve all the people who count on the Corporation but do not speak fluent English.

In a separate effort, PBGC also recently added to its website Spanish versions of 11 major pages or sections of the website.  All of these pages are accessible via ¿Nuevo Usuario?, a Spanish version of the New to PBGC page. Each of the English pages of the website that has a Spanish counterpart now has an "En Español" button at the top to take users to the Spanish page. Each of the Spanish pages also has a button that takes users to the ¿Nuevo Usuario? page, from which they can access all other pages in Spanish.  And PBGC added an "En Español" link at the bottom of the website that is available on every page of the website and takes users to the ¿Nuevo Usuario? page.

Anyone interested in obtaining translation services from PBGC or more information on PBGC's Limited English Proficiency Program should contact PBGC's Customer Contact Center by calling 1-800-400-7242 (TTY/TDD: call 1-800-877-8339 and ask to be connected to 1-800-400-7242), sending an email to, or writing to PBGC, PO Box 151750, Alexandria, VA 22315-1750.

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