Washington LawHelp

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 it will stop (terminate) or cut back (reduce) 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 an administrative hearing soon, usually within ten days of DSHS mailing written notice, to keep getting your benefits while you appeal.

Why might DSHS stop or cut my benefits?

Their worker may think:

  • 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

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

How does DSHS have to tell me about their decision?

They must send you a written notice that says:

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

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

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

  • how to appeal if you disagree

  • how to 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 hard 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 an administrative hearing.
  2. Ask that a DSHS supervisor review and explain the decision.
  3. Re-apply.

1.  Administrative Hearing.

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

You can ask for an administrative 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. You may also ask for an administrative 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 you requested a hearing and continued benefits. If you do not, there may be a delay in your benefits.

If it is an emergency, call the OAH. Ask to have your hearing held as soon as possible. (We call this an "expedited" hearing.) Otherwise, your hearing will probably be 20 days or more after you ask for it.
A Judge who does not work for DSHS will conduct the hearing and make a written decision. If you win your hearing and you did not get continued benefits leading up to 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.

*Our publication called Representing Yourself at an Administrative Hearing has more information about the hearing. For free legal advice about your case, call CLEAR at

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 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 whether there is some other proof DSHS 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 an administrative hearing.  The ten- and 90-day deadlines for continued benefits and appeal keep running while you work with DSHS. Even if it seems like DSHS will fix your case, you can ask for a hearing just in case. You can always withdraw the hearing request if things work out.

3. Reapply.

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

  • You think DSHS was right to terminate you before, but your situation has changed.

  • 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 administrative hearing.

How do I get ready for an administrative hearing?

Our publication Representing Yourself at an Administrative Hearing has steps to 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 DSHS lists in your notice and the others it used in your case generally start with "WAC 388- or WAC 182-."  Find them at the DSHS office, your county law library, many public libraries, and online at http://apps.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

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 callers with free interpreters as needed.  If you are deaf or hard of hearing, 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, 1-877-211-WASH (9274). 211 works with a language line to provide callers with free interpreters as needed. Deaf and hearing-impaired callers can call 1-800-833-6384 or 711 to get a free relay operator. They will then connect you with 211. You can also get information on legal service providers in King County 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 October 2014.

© 2014 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.)

Last Review and Update: Oct 07, 2014
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