City's Bilingual Pay Might Go Away

A proposed amendment to the city budget could save taxpayers more than a million dollars a year. One councilmember says it's time for Houston to eliminate its monthly stipend for bilingual employees. Laurie Johnson reports.

In Houston's massive $4.2 billion budget, bilingual pay is a blip on the radar. A 1992 ordinance to help the city recruit bilingual employees adds an extra $75 a month for any city employee who claims fluency in a second language.

Councilmember Anne Clutterbuck says the city absolutely needs bilingual employees, but paying a stipend is unnecessary.

"The City of Houston, of course, is amazingly diverse and we need people available to be able to speak and communicate. But I don't think that we should be paying extra for it. It should be part of the original job description."

There's no aptitude test required to get the stipend. Clutterbuck says it's given to anyone who fills out the bilingual pay form, even if their job duties don't require a second language.

"It's kind of an honor system. There's a one-page form that every individual fills out. In my office, I've had two employees that have completed the form and asked me to sign it and I did so, but in the District C office there's not necessarily the need to speak more than one language."

About 1,400 non-classified civilian employees get bilingual pay, costing the city an extra $1 million a year. Clutterbuck's amendment would eliminate the stipend. She says if other councilmembers aren't willing to eliminate it altogether, the city should at least require a proficiency test and only give bilingual pay to those whose job duties require it.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...