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Representing yourself at an administrative hearing

If you do not agree with any verbal or written decision made by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), you can appeal that decision by asking for an administrative hearing. Read this to learn when and how to ask for a hearing, how to get ready for your hearing, and what to expect at your hearing and afterward. #7910EN

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Please Note:

  • Read this only if you live in Washington State.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Yes. You should read this if you get, or have applied for, benefits through the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), and you disagree with a verbal or written decision they have made about your benefits. We explain here how you can appeal that decision by asking for and going to an administrative hearing WAC 388-02-0085.

  • Examples: DSHS turns down (denies) your application, reduces or stops cash benefits, Food Stamps, or medical assistance, says they are punishing (sanctioning) you for not following their rules, or claims you have an overpayment.

Read this to learn:

  • When and to ask for a hearing
  • How to get ready for your hearing
  • What happens at the hearing and afterward

If you have a hard time speaking or understanding English, or cannot communicate in spoken language, you have the right to a qualified and impartial interpreter at no cost WAC 388-02-0120. Family members and friends cannot be your interpreter at the hearing.  

To ask for an interpreter, talk to the Administrative Coordinator at your local DSHS office, or call the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) at (360) 664-2700 or 1-800-583-8271. Tell them you need an interpreter.

You have the right to notices about your hearing in the language you speak at home WAC 388-02-0130.

If any time during the hearing you feel the interpreter is not doing a good job, you can ask the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for another one.

DSHS must give you a written notice if it plans to turn down (deny), lower, or stop (terminate) your benefits, sanction (punish) you, or decide it paid you too much (overpaid you) benefits WAC 388-458-0002.

The notice must say both of these:

  • What action DSHS is taking.
  • What rule or rules it is relying on.

* You can ask for an administrative hearing anytime within 90 days of the date of the notice.

If you get benefits and you ask for a hearing within ten days of the date on the notice or before the date DSHS says it will stop or lower your benefits, DSHS must keep giving you benefits until an ALJ has decided your case. If DSHS stops your benefits without giving you written notice, ask for an administrative hearing to ask for con­tinued benefits.

  • There is an exception to this. DSHS can stop your food stamps even though you have asked for a hearing, if your certification period has ended WAC 388-458-0040(5)(c).

If DSHS is stopping or paying you less benefits, any continued benefits you get may become an overpayment -- a debt you owe DSHS -- if you lose your hearing WAC 388-458-0040(6). You might have to repay up to 60 days of benefits WAC 388-410-0001(1)(b).

Read How to Fight an Overpayment of Cash or Medical Assistance  and Fighting a Food Assistance Overpayment to learn more about how DSHS collects overpayments.

There are different ways you can do this.

In writing: Write the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), P.O. Box 42488, Olympia, WA 98504 WAC 388-02-0100.

  • If it is an emergency, call them at (360) 664-8717 or 1-800-583-8271 to ask them to hold the hearing as soon as possible (an "expedited" hearing).
  • You have the right to ask for an interpreter, at no cost. 

Verbally: You can a call OAH or tell the DSHS Administrative Hearing Coordinator or other DSHS worker that you want a hearing. DSHS may have you follow up with a written request.

After you ask for a hearing, OAH will mail you a "Notice of Hearing" saying the hearing time, date, and place.

I got a hearing notice. It says the hearing will happen by phone. Can I get an in-person hearing instead?

Probably. Call OAH as soon as you can at the number on the notice to ask for an in-person hearing. In-person is usually better. You have the right to have the hearing at your local DSHS Community Services Office.

You can make an appointment to meet with the DSHS Administrative Hearing Coordinator (AHC). The AHC is usually not a lawyer. The AHC will represent DSHS at your hearing.

Ask the AHC:

  • To explain why DSHS is denying, lowering, or stopping your benefits, or taking any other action against you.
  • To give you copies of all rules DSHS is using to support its action.
  • To ask if DSHS will have witnesses at the hearing. If so, ask who, and what the AHC will ask them about.
  • To view and get copies of relevant documents from your electronic case file.

This is a chance to understand the issues better from both sides and help you get ready for your hearing. You may even be able to settle the case. If you don't, you will still have the hearing. The AHC should not pressure you to cancel (withdraw) your hearing request.

  • The documents in your electronic case file may include letters, notices, case notes, case narratives, medical reports and evaluations, cash and Basic Food computations, WorkFirst notes and documents, applications, eligibility reviews.

Well before your hearing, DSHS should give you a packet of all documents they will use at the hearing. If you do not get the packet by a week before the hearing, call the AHC. If you believe DSHS gave you the packet too late for you to review and understand, ask the ALJ to reschedule the hearing or take some other action to be fair to you because you did not get the packet in time to get ready.

Before your hearing, you should send the judge at OAH and the AHC at DSHS identical copies of all documents, pictures, and other papers you will use at the hearing to show why you think DSHS is wrong. Most hearings are by phone. The judge and the FHC need to have gotten your documents in time for your hearing.  You should send them in beforehand even if your hearing is in-person.

It is like a pre-hearing meeting, but it takes place on the record. This means that the ALJ is there, and records it.

  • If there is a pre-hearing conference, you must go to it.
  • A written list of points you want to explain to the ALJ.
  • Any documents, pictures, or other papers showing why you think DSHS is wrong.
  • Witnesses to testify on your behalf.
  • A friend or relative to support you. They do not have to testify.
  • A friend, relative, or other person to represent you at the hearing. They do not have to be a lawyer.

* Most people represent themselves at their hearing.

The ALJ conducts the hearing. The ALJ works for OAH.

If your hearing is in-person, it will take place at the DSHS office.

These hearings have fewer rules (are less formal) than court proceedings. The ALJ records it and takes notes.

At the start of the hearing, the ALJ will explain that the ALJ does not work for DSHS, has never seen your file, and knows nothing about you or the case except what your hearing request said.

The ALJ explains that in deciding your case, they consider only:

  • documents you and DSHS submit
  • sworn testimony

* The ALJ will swear in everyone who will testify.

Usually, the FHC talks next. They tell the ALJ why DSHS believes it is right, and explain DSHS' documents it has given the ALJ to prove its case (its exhibits). When the FHC finishes, you can ask them about what they said. If the FHC has witnesses, you can question them when they finish testifying. The ALJ may have questions for the FHC and/or witnesses, to clarify the facts.

Now you tell your side of the story. Remember: All the ALJ knows about you or the case is what your hearing request said. You must tell the ALJ everything you want them to know. Look at your notes. Tell the ALJ exactly what happened from your perspective. When you finish, the FHC and the ALJ may question you. Then any witnesses you have can testify. The FHC and ALJ may question your witnesses.

How you act is important. The ALJ hears or sees you just this once.

Some tips:

  • Be polite. Do not interrupt anyone.
  • Be firm, but do not yell.
  • Do not swear or use other offensive language.

If your hearing is in person:

  • Look at the ALJ while testifying.
  • Do not roll your eyes or use other disrespectful or offensive gestures.

The ALJ does not decide at the hearing. They mail you a written decision about a month after. It is either an Initial Order or a Final Order. There is an important difference. See below.

If you or DSHS disagree with the Initial Order, you can appeal to a Review Judge who works for DSHS' Board of Appeals (BOA). This appeal is a Petition for Review. Instructions on petitioning for review and the deadline come with the Initial Order.

This appeal is in writing only. You do not go before the Review Judge. The Review Judge considers only documents and testimony from the hearing. You cannot add anything. If you send the BOA a written appeal, DSHS can respond in writing. If DSHS appeals to the BOA, you can respond.

The Review Judge will send you and DSHS a Review Decision. If you disagree with it, you can file a Petition for Review of Administrative Decision to your county Superior Court OR Thurston County Superior Court. If your hearing was about public assistance, there is no fee to file in Superior Court. You must file a Petition of Administrative Decision within 30 days of the date of the Review Decision. If you cannot get a lawyer, read How to Petition for Superior Court Review to learn more.

If your hearing notice has a "B" in the docket number, you get a Final Order. If you or DSHS disagree with the ALJ's Final Order, you cannot appeal to the BOA. You can ask the ALJ to reconsider their decision.

The ALJ's decision on Reconsideration is the final agency decision. DSHS cannot appeal it further. If you disagree with the Reconsideration decision, you appeal by filing a Petition for Review of Administrative Decision.

You can skip the Request for Reconsideration and appeal a Final Order to Superior Court with a Petition for Review of Administrative Decision. Read How to Petition for Superior Court Review to learn more.

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Last Review and Update: Mar 17, 2022
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