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WashingtonLawHelp.orgWashington LawHelp

How WorkFirst can help Survivors of Family Violence

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
Read this in:
Spanish / Español

DSHS will screen and identify TANF (Welfare) recipients for a history of family violence, notify TANF recipients about the Family Violence Amendment, maintain confidentiality, refer individuals needing counseling to supportive services, and waive Workfirst requirements where the requirements would make it more difficult to escape family violence, or put victims at further risk of family violence. #7124EN


Please Note:

Read this only if you live in the state of Washington and you get TANF.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the Family Violence Amendment? +

It says DSHS will work with you to find out if you are a survivor of family violence. If you are, it will

  • help you get supportive services
  • waive (excuse you from) having to do things under the WorkFirst program that would make it harder to escape family violence or that would put you at more risk


What requirements could they waive to help keep me safe? +

  • Normally you can only get TANF for a certain length of time. DSHS could waive that time limit. Then you would have more time to get back on your feet safely.  
  • Normally if you get TANF, you must work with the Division of Child Support (DCS). They usually have you help identify the other parent of the child you are getting TANF for to collect support from that parent. DSHS could excuse you from having to help DCS go after that parent for support if it would put you or the child at risk.
  • Many people who get TANF have to take part in the WorkFirst program. If you meet the definition of family violence, and taking part in WorkFirst would put you at more risk of violence, DSHS can come up with specialized work activities for you.

This is not a complete list.

*Due to the pandemic, DSHS had temporarily stopped requiring WorkFirst activities if you got TANF. But starting September 1, 2021, you have to meet your WorkFirst participation requirements again. 

Does the Family Violence Amendment cover me? +

It depends. DSHS says family violence is when you or a family member has been subjected by another family or household member to

  • Physical injury or threats of physical injury
  • Sexual abuse
  • Sexual activity involving a child
  • Being forced as a child’s caretaker to engage in nonconsensual sexual activities
  • Mental abuse
  • Neglect or deprivation of medical care
  • Stalking

Family or household members could include: 

  • Your spouse or ex-spouse
  • Someone with whom you have a child
  • Someone related to you by blood or marriage
  • If you are at least 16 years old, someone you are living with or who you have lived with
  • Your child or your parent

How do I talk to DSHS about what has happened to me? +

  • Tell your caseworker. Be specific. Explain what the batterer has done.
    • Did/does the person hit you? Punch you? Slap you? Threaten you? Do any of this in front of the children? Describe the threats.
    • What injuries have you suffered? Where on your body? Did you get medical care? Did the batterer deny you access to medical care or calling for help? Does the batterer threaten to take the children away? Does the batterer abuse the court system? How? Do you have a protection order against the batterer?
  • Does the batterer use abusive language? Give examples.
  • Explain why work activities put you at more risk. Give examples of why you are at high risk. Will the batterer be able to find you?  Will you have to put your children in child care? Will they be at risk of kidnapping or child snatching?  Has the batterer stalked you? Try to work with your caseworker to develop safe alternatives.
  • Explain why family violence keeps you from being able to take part in WorkFirst. Do work activities interfere with counseling?  Does family violence interfere with your job attendance?  Do court appearances interfere with your job attendance?  Has your batterer forbidden you to work?  Do you have to care for your children because they have been victims of family violence?  Do you have mental health problems because of family violence? Do they make it hard for you to function?
  • Develop safe alternative activities. Explain your needs for referrals, time for safety planning, supportive services, and counseling. Has your batterer isolated you? Kept you from self-improvement? Do you need classes in adult basic education, English as a second language, or vocational training?
  • Do not be afraid to ask for more time for recovery. Many victims of family violence need time to recover to the point that they can start looking for work. DSHS generally allows victims 30 days to give DSHS the information to support a request for deferral from work activity. DSHS then usually gives deferrals in 30-day blocks. If you have mental health or substance use issues related to family violence, you should get time to work on resolving these just like anyone else.


What if I disagree with a decision about my TANF benefits? +

You can appeal DSHS decisions such as when DSHS denies  your application, reduces or stops your TANF, or makes you take part in work  activities that put you at risk of danger. DSHS must give you written notice if  it is denying, reducing (lowering), or stopping your benefits.

How do I ask for a hearing? +

Write the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH):

Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH)
P.O. Box 42489
Olympia, WA 98504

If it is an emergency, call OAH at (360) 664-8717 or 1-800-583-8271. Ask them to schedule your hearing as soon as possible. This is an “expedited” hearing. Read Representing Yourself at an Administrative Hearing at WashingtonLawHelp.org.

*You must ask for a hearing within 90 days of the date DSHS wrote the notice.

Can I keep getting benefits during the hearing process? +

Yes. If you are getting benefits and ask for a hearing within 10 days of the date of the notice, or before the date that the proposed action goes into effect, DSHS must keep paying you benefits until an administrative law judge has made a decision in your case. If DSHS stops your benefits without telling you, you can ask for an administrative hearing and ask for continued benefits.
If DSHS is stopping or lowering your benefits, any benefits you get during the hearing process may become an overpayment (a debt you owe DSHS) if you lose the hearing.



Get Legal Help +

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

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Last Review and Update: Sep 16, 2021