Fighting a food stamp overpayment

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Use this when the Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS) notifies you of a food assistance overpayment. “Food assistance” includes basic food, FAP, or WASHCAP assistance. #7304EN

Please Note:

  • Read this only if you live in Washington State.

The Basics

Yes, you should use this when the Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS) tells you that you have a food stamp (food assistance) overpayment. Food assistance includes basic food, FAP, or WASHCAP assistance.

It happens when you get food assistance you should not have under DSHS rules. See Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 388-410-0020 through 388-410-0035.

  • Only the adults in your household are responsible for the overpayment.

Yes.

There are three kinds of overpayments (WAC 388-410-0020):

  1. Intentional program violation (IPV) overpayment: On purpose, to get more food assistance, you did not give DSHS information you knew you should or you gave wrong information that affected your assistance amount.
  2. Inadvertent household error overpayment: You made a mistake or did not understand what you were supposed to do. You did not do anything on purpose to get more food assistance. This is an unintentional (not on purpose) overpayment.
  3. Administrative error overpayment: DSHS made a mistake.

Example: they did not look at information you gave them to determine your benefits. This is an unintentional overpayment.

They might refer your case to the prosecuting attorney for fraud (WAC 388-446).

If charged with a crime, ask for a public defender. Talk to a lawyer before making any statements to the agency.

Yes. You can ask for an administrative hearing (WAC 388-410-0030(12)).

You can argue any or all of these:

  • There was no overpayment.
  • The overpayment amount is wrong.
  • The overpayment was not on purpose (unintentional or inadvertent).
  • DSHS made a mistake that led to the overpayment.

* Read Representing yourself at an administrative hearing to learn how to get ready for and what to do at the hearing.

Yes. The rules depend on the type of overpayment (WAC 388-410-0030(8)).

Intentional Overpayments: DSHS must calculate an overpayment back to the first month you broke a food assistance rule on purpose. However, they cannot go back more than 6 years before they discovered the overpayment.

  • Example: DSHS overpaid you for 10 years. They discovered this at the end of the 10th year. They will not try to collect the first 4 years.

Inadvertent Household Errors: When calculating your overpayment, DSHS will not go back more than 24 months before they discovered it.

  • Example: DSHS overpaid you for 6 years. They discovered this at the end of the 6th year. They will not try to collect the first four years.

Administrative Errors: When calculating your overpayment, DSHS will not go back more than 12 months before they discovered it.

  • Example: DSHS overpaid you for 6 years. They discovered this at the end of When does DSHS have to set up (establish) an overpayment?

DSHS must set up an overpayment by the next calendar quarter from when it discovers the overpayment (7 CFR 273.18(d)(1)).

Overpayment Establishment Timeline

 

1st Quarter

2nd Quarter

3rd Quarter

4th Quarter

If the date DSHS discovers the overpayment is in:

January, February, or
March

April, May, or
June

July, August,
September

October, November, or December

DSHS must set up the claim by:

June 30

September 30

December 31

March 31

Here are some examples:

  • DSHS discovers an overpayment on February 6 (1st quarter). They must set up the overpayment by June 30 (2nd quarter).
  • DSHS discovers an overpayment on June 28 (2nd quarter). They must set up the overpayment by September 30 (3rd quarter).

It is established if any of these happen (WAC 388-410-0030(11)):

  • You do not respond to an overpayment notice within 90 days of DSHS giving it to you.
  • An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decides after a hearing that the overpayment was correct.
  • You create a written agreement with DSHS that the overpayment is correct.
  • DSHS should not charge you with an overpayment or they should reduce the months of the overpayment.
  • You should ask DSHS to dismiss all or part of the overpayment. If they will not, you should ask for an administrative hearing. At the hearing, you should ask the Administrative Law Judge to dismiss or lower the overpayment.

When DSHS collects on the overpayment

Yes.

Intentional overpayments:  They must reduce your food assistance by twenty percent of the monthly amount or twenty dollars a month, whichever is more.

Inadvertent Household Errors and Administrative Errors:  They must reduce your food assistance by ten percent of the monthly amount or ten dollars a month, whichever is more WAC 388-410-0033(7).

  • To pay off the overpayment faster, you can agree in writing to a payment plan with a larger reduction in benefits.

You can work out a payment plan with the Office of Financial Recovery (OFR). They will work with you to find a payment you can afford.

If you agree to a payment plan, and then cannot make payments, you can ask OFR to compromise the balance of your overpayment. See next section.

  • If you cannot make a scheduled payment, let OFR know right away. Call 1-800-562-6114 or 360-664-5700 or write them at PO Box 9501, Olympia WA  98507-9501.

Maybe, if:

  • Your overpayment debt is more than 120 days past due.
  • You are not meeting the terms of a scheduled repayment agreement.
  • You no longer get food assistance.

If any of the above are true, DSHS can garnish (take) your tax refund or your Social Security benefits, if you get more than $750 a month in Social Security (WAC 388-410-0033(11), (12)).

If you no longer get food assistance, DSHS might also:

  • Garnish your wages or other financial property.
  • File liens against your property.

Compromising on an overpayment

Ask the OFR to compromise (lower or cancel) some or all of the overpayment amount (WAC 388-410-0033(13)).

Contact them:

  • By phone at 1-800-562-6114 or 360-664-5700
  • By mail: PO Box 9501, Olympia WA  98507-9501

They will consider it if (WAC 388-410-0033(13), (14)):

  • You cannot repay the balance or it would be a hardship and you cannot repay within three years.
  • The overpayment claim is incorrect.
  • All adults responsible for the overpayment have died.
  • Your balance is less than $25 and you have not made any payments for 90 days.
  • DSHS accepted a partial payment as payment in full.

You will probably have to fill out a monthly budget form.

OFR will also consider:

  • You expect to be in jail or prison or institutionalized for at least 3 years. You have no things of value you own (assets) that they can legally collect. 
  • Your only income relates to age or disability, like SSI, Social Security Disability or Retirement, or ABD.
  • You have a history of homelessness, having a very low income, or addiction.
  • Your household income from wages and other sources.
  • Health factors for you and your dependents.
  • Your employment potential.
  • If there is a chance that your income or assets will change in the next three years.
  • IF you have money or assets that you could use to repay the debt.
  • Equity in real property (land you own, and any buildings on it) - how much you could sell it for, minus how much you owe on it.
  • Your household debts and expenses.
  • Any other relevant factors.

Yes, there are three.

* Tip for representing yourself: There are no state regulations about compromise. The types of compromises and review process for compromise decisions come from OFR policy.

  1. Full and immediate: They write off the overpayment debt in full right now. 
  2. Partial and immediate: You offer to settle your debt right now, for less than you in fact owe.

Example: Your debt is $150. You offer to pay $100 today. The agency compromises the rest. 

  1. Partial and continued: OFR lowers the amount of the overpayment debt. You make payments until you have paid the reduced amount.

OFR will send you a written decision within 30 days of getting your request. If you disagree with the decision, you can write or call OFR to review it within 30 days.

Asking for review by phone: Call 360-664-5700, 1-800-562-6114, or TTY WA 1-800-833-6388. Any OFR agent can give your request to an OFR Manager.

Asking for review in writing: Mail it to PO Box 9501, Olympia, WA 98507-9501. Address it to the person who sent you the written decision not to compromise your overpayment. Include your client ID number from your overpayment notice. 

An OFR Manager reviews your request. The Manager will mail you a written review decision no later than 30 days after they received your request for review.

You can ask for a review by the OFR Chief. You must do this by phone or mail within 30 days from getting the first review decision. OFR will mail you a written decision within 30 days of your request.

No. There is no right to an administrative hearing for review of any decisions regarding compromise of an overpayment WAC 388-410-0033(13)(b)(ii).

  • OFR only stops collection action during these reviews if you get a court order requiring them to do so. Talk to a lawyer.

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Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

Last Review and Update: Apr 25, 2022
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