How To Fight a Termination or Reduction of DSHS Public Assistance

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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This publication explains your rights if the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) tells you that it will stop or cut back the cash, food stamps, medical, or child care assistance they have been giving you. The most important thing to know is that you must ask for a fair hearing soon, usually within ten days of being mailed written notice, to keep getting your benefits while you appeal.

Why might DSHS stop or cut my benefits?

The DSHS office might terminate (stop) or reduce (cut the amount of) your benefits because their worker thinks that:

  • your monthly income or the assets you own (resources) have gone up enough that you no longer qualify for benefits, or as much benefits, under their guidelines;

  • your situation may have changed so that you or your family members are no longer the kinds of persons (such as disabled or child) that can get that kind of benefit; or

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

How does DSHS have to tell me about their decision?

  • They must send you a written notice that tells you:

  • the date your benefit will stop or be cut, which must be at least ten days after the notice is mailed;

  • the reason why the facts in your case require this change;

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

  • how you can appeal if you disagree; and

  • how you can keep getting benefits during your appeal.

Why might their 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 the right steps in deciding your case and giving you written notice.

  • DSHS may not have properly accommodated any disability you have that makes it difficult for you to understand or follow their rules. See DSHS Help for People with Disabilities: Necessary Supplemental Accommodations (NSA).

What can I do if I disagree?

You may do any or all three of the following:

  1. Ask for a fair hearing;
  2. Ask for a DSHS supervisor to review and explain the decision;
  3. Re-apply

1.  Fair Hearing.

You have up to 90 days from the date of the notice to ask for a hearing. If you want to make sure that you will keep getting benefits ask for the fair hearing right away, within ten days from the date of the termination or reduction notice. **

You can ask for a fair hearing by writing or calling the Office of Administrative Hearings
P.O. Box 42489
Olympia, WA 98504

Check online at www.oah.wa.gov/. Click on "Contact" for the phone number of your regional office. Or you may ask for a fair hearing by calling or writing your DSHS office.

If you ask for a hearing by contacting OAH and you ask that your benefits continue pending your hearing, you should also call your local DSHS office and let them know that you requested a hearing and continued benefits. If you do not, there may be a delay in your benefits.

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 and the written decision will be made by a Judge who does not work for DSHS. If you win your hearing and you did not get continued benefits pending the hearing, the Judge will order the benefits you lost returned to you.

**If you get continued benefits and lose your hearing, DSHS can bill you for an overpayment of up to two months' worth of the continued benefits.

For more information about representing yourself at a fair hearing, see our publication called Representing Yourself at a Fair Hearing. For free legal advice about your specific case, call CLEAR at 1-888-201-1014.

2. Ask for Explanation and Review.

Before or after asking for a hearing, 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 provide the information. 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 a fair hearing.

3. Reapply.

You may apply again for benefits at any time, even if you have requested a fair hearing. Approval of a new application often will not cover all the time since your termination. Reasons for reapplying include:

  • you think DSHS was right to terminate you before but your situation has changed; or

  • you have more information that might change the decision. Your DSHS worker or supervisor refuses to consider it unless you apply again. You can reapply while also trying to use the new information in your fair hearing.

How do I get ready for a fair hearing?

Our publication Representing Yourself at a Fair Hearing has steps you can take in any DSHS case to understand DSHS's reasons, gather missing information, try to settle your case, and 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-." Find them at the DSHS office, your county law library, many public libraries, and online at http://www.leg.wa.gov/wac/.

We have other publications to help you understand the rules for some benefit programs:

  • Medical Assistance for Children and Families
  • Medical and Long-Term Care Assistance for Aged or Disabled Adults
  • Cash Assistance for Children and Families (TANF and WorkFirst)
  • Food Assistance
  • Child Care Assistance

What if I need 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 2013.

© 2013 Northwest Justice Project. 1-888-201-1014
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and individuals for non-commercial use only.)