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How to Fight a Denial of DSHS Public Assistance

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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7100EN - This publication explains your rights if you apply for cash, food stamps, medical, or child care assistance from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and their office denies you benefits.

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This publication explains your rights if you apply for cash, food stamps, medical, or child care assistance from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and their office denies you benefits.

If you are already getting help and DSHS cuts or stops your benefits, see our publication How to Fight a Termination or Reduction of DSHS Public Assistance.

If DSHS asks you to repay benefits that you got in the past, see How to Fight an Overpayment of Cash Assistance, Medical Assistance or Food Stamps. If your problem is with Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits from the U.S. Social Security Administration, see

Why might DSHS deny me benefits?

Because their worker thinks that:

  • your monthly income or the assets you own (resources) does not meet their guidelines

  • you or your family are not the kinds of persons (such as have a disability or be within a certain age range) who can get that type of benefit

  • you or your family are not citizens or a type of immigrant who can get that kind of benefit

  • you have not given DSHS information they need, or you have not done something that their rules say you must do.

How does DSHS have to tell me about the denial?

They must send you a written notice that tells you:

  • what benefit was denied

  • the reason why the facts in your case do not make you eligible

  • the Washington Administrative Code(WAC) numbers of the rules that the worker used to decide your case, and

  • how to appeal if you disagree.

Why might DSHS's decision be wrong?

  • The DSHS worker may not have known or understood all the important facts

  • DSHS may have not used its rules correctly

  • DSHS may not have taken all of the right steps in deciding your case and giving you written notice

  • DSHS may not have taken the steps it is supposed to take if you have a disability that makes it hard for you to understand or follow their rules. See our publication DSHS Help for People with Disabilities: Necessary Supplemental Accommodation (NSA).

I disagree with DSHS. What can I do?

Any of the following, or all three:

  • Ask for an administrative hearing
  • Ask for a DSHS supervisor to review and explain the decision
  • Re-apply

Administrative Hearing.

You have up to 90 days from the date of the denial notice to ask for a hearing.

You ask for an administrative hearing by writing the Office of Administrative Hearings at P.O. Box 42489, Olympia, WA 98504, or by calling your nearest regional office (find the right phone number by going to www.oah.wa.gov/ and clicking on "Contact)."  Or you can call or write your local DSHS office.

If it is an emergency, ask to have your hearing held as soon as possible by calling the OAH. This is called an "expedited" hearing. Otherwise, your hearing will probably be 20 days or more after you ask for it.
A hearing will be held by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who does not work for DSHS. The ALJ will send you a written decision. If you win your hearing, the ALJ usually will order the benefits paid effective the day that DSHS denied them.

Note:  If you are representing yourself, read our publication Representing Yourself at an  Administrative Hearing.

Review and Explanation

Before or after asking for a hearing, you can ask your DSHS worker to explain more about the decision. You may learn that DSHS had the wrong information or was missing some information. If so, try to give DSHS information and ask the worker for any help you need to get it. If it would cost you money to get the information, ask DSHS to pay for it or if there is some other proof they would accept.

You may also ask the worker's supervisor for a meeting to review the termination. If you write to the supervisor, s/he must write back within ten days. If that does not change the decision, you can write the head (administrator) of the local DSHS office, who also must write back in ten days. If you disagree with what the worker, supervisor, and administrator decide, there is no more appeal unless you also ask for or have already asked for an administrative hearing.


You can apply again for benefits at any time, even if you have asked for an administrative hearing. You should reapply if:

  • You think DSHS was right to deny you before, but your situation has since changed

  • You have more information that might change the decision, but your DSHS worker or supervisor refuses to look at it unless you re-apply. You can re-apply while also trying to use the new information in your administrative hearing.

How do I get ready for an administrative hearing?

See Representing Yourself at an Administrative Hearing for steps you can take in any DSHS case:

  • To understand DSHS's reasons

  • To gather missing information

  • To try and settle your case and

  • To represent yourself if you must.

The rules that DSHS lists in your notice and the others that it used in your case start with "WAC 388-". The rules about the hearing process itself are in WAC Chapter 388-02. Find them at the DSHS office, your county law library, many public libraries and online at http://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx.

These publications should help you understand the rules for some benefit programs:







How can I get legal help?

CLEAR is Washington's toll-free, centralized intake, advice and referral service for low-income people seeking free legal assistance with civil legal problems. 

  • Outside King County: Call 1-888-201-1014 weekdays from 9:10 a.m. until 12:25 p.m. CLEAR works with a language line to provide interpreters as needed at no cost to callers. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, please call 1-888-201-1014 using your preferred TTY or Video relay service.

  • King County: Call 211 for information and referral to an appropriate legal services provider Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm. You may also call (206) 461-3200, or the toll-free number, which may be useful when calling from a pay phone, 1-877-211-WASH (9274). 211 works with a language line to provide interpreters as needed at no cost to callers. Deaf and hearing-impaired callers can call 1-800-833-6384 or 711 to be connected to a relay operator at no cost, who will then connect them with 211. Information on legal service providers in King County may also be accessed through 211's website at www.resourcehouse.com/win211/.

  • Persons 60 and Over: Persons 60 or over may call CLEAR*Sr at 1-888-387-7111, regardless of income.


This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of February 2014.

© 2014 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)

Last Review and Update: Feb 19, 2014