WorkFirst sanctions

Read this if DSHS is giving you less TANF or food stamps because they say you didn't follow their rules or otherwise cooperate. #7132EN

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Yes, you should read this if you live in Washington State and you are in WorkFirst because you get TANF, you should read this. We explain here what sanctions under the WorkFirst program are and when and how you should fight a sanction.

It is a punishment (a penalty). It lowers the amount of TANF you get. DSHS can sanction you, or stop your TANF altogether, if it decides you failed or refused without good reason to do everything in your Individual Responsibility Plan (IRP) or to meet other WorkFirst requirements. You can read the state rule about this at WAC 388-310-1600.

DSHS can also reduce how much you get in food stamps under that program's rules. You can read the state rule about this at WAC 388-444-0055.

Your medical assistance will not change with sanctions or if DSHS stops your TANF.

After you do not meet your IRP or WorkFirst requirements for 2 months, DSHS will lower your grant by one person's share or 40%, whichever is more. After 12 months in a row in sanction, DSHS will stop (will end) your TANF. 

DSHS should let you fix (should let you cure) the sanction before you reach the 12-month mark. See "I cannot show the sanction is wrong. How else can I get it removed from my grant?" below.

DSHS may decide you "failed or refused" without "good reason" to do something you were supposed to do. For example, you might not have given your DSHS case manager information they need to make or update your IRP. Maybe you didn't go to appointments listed in your IRP. You might not have shown you are doing your best to do everything in your IRP. Or you didn't take a job that meets DSHS' standards.

Call your DSHS worker right away at the number on your IRP. Explain what happened. 

If you do not get hold of your worker, leave a detailed voicemail. Ask the worker to put a note in your file. Keep a note in your own records explaining why you could not go to the WorkFirst activity on that date and what you did to tell DSHS why you could not go.

No. An IRP must be in place before DSHS can sanction you.

If you disagree with your IRP, do not sign it. To avoid a sanction for refusing to sign it, you should also ask right away for an administrative hearing about your IRP. Read Representing yourself at an administrative hearing to learn more.

English is not my primary language. What if I do not have a copy of my IRP in my language?

If you do not speak English well or at all, there must be a signed copy of your IRP in your primary language in your DSHS file. If there isn't, DSHS must cancel the sanction.

DSHS must first send you a letter stating what you did not do. That letter must also say that you have 10 days to contact DSHS to explain what happened. 

The letter will also say that DSHS will schedule a "case staffing" meeting with you. At the meeting, DSHS will decide if you had a good reason for not following your IRP. If you do not reply to DSHS' letter within 10 days, DSHS will make its decision about the sanction without you. 

DSHS should make sure it has screened you for family violence and other barriers to you taking part. DSHS will then use the information it has to decide if you had good reason for not following your IRP.

Yes. This is your chance to explain your good reason for not doing what DSHS thought you should. You can invite anyone you want to come with you. Your case manager will be there, and other people involved with your DSHS case. 

If DSHS decides you had a good reason for not following the IRP, DSHS will not sanction you.

If DSHS decides you did not have a good reason, they will put you into sanctions.

  • DSHS will mail you a notice at least 10 days before you go into sanctions. The notice must be in your primary language and explain when and by how much DSHS plans to lower your TANF, what you were supposed to but did not do, how you can end the sanction, the rule that lets DSHS sanction you, and how to ask for a hearing to fight (to appeal) the sanction.

  • DSHS will lower your TANF by one person's share or 40%, whichever is more.

  • After you have been in sanctions for 12 months, you will lose TANF.

  • You can try to prove that you have done what WorkFirst requires. The DSHS worker did not understand the facts or use the rules correctly.

  • Maybe DSHS did not give you 10 days' written notice to contact them to explain what happened before sanctioning you or closing your case.

  • Maybe DSHS' notice before reducing your TANF didn't give you enough information. For example, the notice didn't say what rule you broke.

  • Maybe the IRP DSHS says you did not follow was never finished and signed. DSHS did not give it to you to read. It was not in your primary language.

  • You can try to prove you had "good reason" – events not in your control – for not following your IRP.

  • Your medical provider writes a statement that a serious physical, mental, or emotional condition kept you from following your IRP.

  • Someone threatened you with, or subjected you to, family violence. Read How WorkFirst can help Survivors of Family Violence to learn more.

  • DSHS did not send you a notice telling you what information they needed or about the appointment you missed.

  • You could not find affordable, appropriate childcare for your child under age 13 within a reasonable distance.  

  • Your transportation or childcare arrangements broke down. You could not make new ones in time.

  • You could not find other care for a person age 13 or older who lives in your home who cannot care for themselves.

  • You had an immediate legal problem, such as an eviction notice.

  • You are or should have been designated a person getting Equal Access (formerly "NSA") services. DSHS failed to make this designation or failed to make or follow an accommodation plan. Read DSHS help for people with disabilities: Necessary Supplemental Accommodations to learn more.

If the sanction is for not following your IRP, you must follow your IRP for 4 weeks in a row (28 calendar days). Then DSHS will end (it will lift) the sanction. Your TANF will return to the normal amount, starting the month following your 4 weeks of following your IRP. 

If the sanction is for not giving DSHS information needed to develop your IRP, DSHS should lift the sanction as soon as you do give them the information.

DSHS will stop your TANF (will close your case). DSHS must first send you a notice in your primary language. The notice must say what you failed to do, when DSHS will end your TANF, how to ask for an administrative hearing, and how to end your penalties and keep your case open.

If you disagree with the decision to close your TANF case, ask right away for an administrative hearing and continuing benefits. If you wait until after DSHS has closed your case, you probably won't get continuing benefits. 

If your case closed due to sanction, you must take part in work activity for 4 weeks in a row before you can get TANF again. Then your TANF benefit will start back up.

If your case closed for another reason while you were in sanction status and is reopened, you will reopen at your reduced grant level. For example, your case closed while you were in month 4 of your reduction sanction. Your grant will be opened in month 5 of grant reduction sanction status.

You can ask for an administrative hearing within 90 days of the date of the notice. Read Representing yourself at an administrative hearing to learn more.


You can call your local DSHS office, fill out a Hearing Request at your local DSHS office or write to the Office of Administrative Hearings, P.O. Box 42488, Olympia, WA 98504. If it is an emergency, call the Office of Administrative Hearings at (360) 664-8717. Ask them to schedule an "expedited" hearing as soon as possible. 

Yes, if you ask for a hearing and "continuing benefits" within 10 days of the date on the notice or before the date the notice takes effect. If the judge at the hearing agrees with and won't change (the judge upholds) the sanction or closure, you may have to repay this assistance. This is an "overpayment." DSHS cannot collect more than sixty days of assistance. The amount of the overpayment will only be the amount of the sanction that the administrative law judge upheld. 

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Last Review and Update: May 24, 2023
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