California public agencies often accept funds, grants, and other federal financial assistance either directly from a federal department or agency, or indirectly through a California department or agency. Typically, when a public agency accepts federal financial assistance – either directly or indirectly – it must comply with specific obligations as a condition of receipt. Often, one such obligation is compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Act”).
What is Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
The Act is a landmark piece of legislation that was passed in 1964 to address discrimination in a variety of circumstances. The Act contains eleven titles, with each title focusing on combatting discrimination in a different way, such as in voting (Title I), commercial businesses (Title II), certain public facilities (Title III), public education (Title IV), federally funded programs (Title VI), and employment (Title VII).
As noted, Title VI prohibits discrimination in federally funded programs. Specifically, Title VI prohibits any person in the United States from being excluded, being denied the benefits of, or being subjected to discrimination on the ground of race, color, or national origin under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
At the time it was enacted, the purpose of Title VI was to address the then common practice of denying individuals access to services, programs, and activities funded by federal financial assistance based on the individual’s race, color, or national origin. In speaking about the need for Title VI in 1963, then President John F. Kennedy said:
Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes, or results in racial discrimination. Direct discrimination by Federal, State, or local governments is prohibited by the Constitution. But indirect discrimination, through the use of Federal funds, is just as invidious; and it should not be necessary to resort to the courts to prevent each individual violation.
Title VI was an affirmative step by the federal government to prevent federal funds from being used to subsidize racial discrimination.
What are a Public Agency’s Obligations under Title VI?
Each public agency that accepts certain federal financial assistance must comply with Title VI. Title VI generally authorizes each federal department or agency that extends federal financial assistance to establish its own rules and regulations to effect the purposes of Title VI. Accordingly, receipt of some types of federal financial assistance just requires a public agency to sign and submit a written assurance that the program funded by the federal financial assistance will be conducted in compliance with Title VI and its implementing regulations and then – of course – take care to do so. But receipt of other types of federal financial assistance requires a public agency to also have and maintain a written comprehensive Title VI Plan that contains certain required elements and demonstrates how the public agency complies with Title VI with regard to the programs and services it provides to the public. Some of these required elements include:
- Designating and identifying an employee who serves as the agency’s Title VI Coordinator;
- Maintaining and posting a non-discrimination notice to the public;
- Maintaining a non-discrimination policy statement;
- Maintaining a complaint and investigation procedure for complaints of discrimination from members of the public;
- Maintaining and implementing a Limited English Proficiency (LEP) plan to assure meaningful access to services for persons with limited English proficiency; and
- Providing a summary of public outreach and involvement activities undertaken to assure that minority persons have meaningful access to the services provided.
Sources of federal financial assistance that commonly require a written comprehensive Title VI Plan include the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Highway Administration, the Department of Transportation, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
In order to understand a public agency’s obligations under Title VI, the agency must undertake a careful review of the federal financial assistance it has received (both directly from various federal departments and agencies and indirectly through California departments and agencies), the source of the funding, and any documentation it signed as a condition of receipt. Only by understanding their obligations, can a public agency take affirmative steps to comply with its Title VI responsibilities.