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A Guide to Public Assistance, Child Support, Facility Licensing, and Other Matters involving the Department of Social and Health Services's Action.
This guide is a general overview of what to expect if you have a Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) hearing before the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). What actually happens at your hearing may be different depending on the type of hearing and the unique circumstances of your case. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will give you instructions at the start of your hearing about how it will proceed.
Words highlighted below have been defined in our Glossary of Legal Terms . Just click on the highlighted word and you will jump to its definition on the glossary page. You may then return back to this page by hitting the back arrow in your web browser. When possible, we have also highlighted specific laws and regulations for you to review.
Please carefully read the brochure "Your Hearing Rights in a DSHS Case" that OAH sends with each Notice of Hearing. If you do not have a copy, click here to view the brochure in PDF format [ Russian | Spanish ] (requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader ).
If you have further questions, contact the telephone number listed on your Notice of Hearing. You may also contact one of our offices listed on the OAH Offices Directory if you do not have a Notice of Hearing.
The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) conducts hearings for DSHS in four main categories: public assistance; child support; facility licensing; and juvenile rehabilitation.
The notice that you received from DSHS should inform you of the deadline for requesting a hearing, whether your request for hearing must be in writing, where to send the request, and whether you may make the request orally. To appeal the denial or termination of cash, medical or basic food benefits, you may request a hearing in writing or by speaking to a responsible person (such as your case worker, a supervisor, or the fair hearings coordinator) at your Community Service Office (CSO). Your CSO has a form you can use if that would be helpful.
You may also write to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) at:
Office of Administrative Hearings
All OAH offices have toll-free numbers. To find the best number to call, see our online OAH Office Directory . It is best to call the office closest to your location. If there are two OAH offices in the same city, call the one that is listed as the "Social and Health Services" office.
All hearings are conducted in English, and the decision mailed to you after the hearing will be written in English. If you or a person who will be appearing at the hearing on your behalf speaks limited English, OAH will provide an interpreter for you at the hearing at no cost to you .
If you want an interpreter at the hearing and have not requested an interpreter before receiving the Notice of Hearing, contact the OAH office identified on the Notice of Hearing as soon as possible and before the day set for the hearing to request an interpreter. If you do not contact OAH before the day set for the hearing, the hearing may have to be postponed for an interpreter to be scheduled.
NOTE: You cannot bring a family member or friend with you to serve as your interpreter at the hearing.
If you or a person who will be appearing at the hearing on your behalf is hearing or speech impaired, contact the OAH office identified on the Notice of Hearing to tell OAH what special accommodations are needed. You may call OAH using the Washington State Telecommunications Relay Service if you have TTY capability. You may reach the Washington State Telecommunications Relay Service by calling 1-800-833-6388. OAH can provide sign language interpreters and/or relay interpreters at the hearing at no cost to you . However, you must contact OAH before the day scheduled for the hearing. Otherwise, the hearing may have to be postponed until an interpreter can be scheduled.
There may be people who, due to other unique physical or sensory challenges, require other special accommodations to fully participate in the hearing. Contact the OAH office identified on the Notice of Hearing as soon as possible so arrangements can be made to accommodate any special needs.
The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) schedules a hearing and sends out a Notice of Hearing with the date, time, and place of the hearing. Enclosed with the Notice is important information about the hearing. Pay special attention to the enclosed brochure. Read it all. Read it carefully.
Next, usually, the hearing representative from DSHS will contact the person who requested the hearing and any other interested party to discuss the case and try to resolve the disagreement. DSHS representative's phone number is written on the Notice of Hearing. You may initiate contact as well.
If you wish to review your file and make copies of documents that you believe are relevant to the hearing, you should call DSHS representative to arrange a time to do this. You may have more than one file (economic, social services, etc.). Be sure to ask to see all files, including those only in hard copy or only on the computer as well as any unfiled documents.
Sometimes the ALJ will schedule a prehearing conference . These are usually held by phone. If the ALJ schedules a prehearing conference, instructions about what to expect will be included in the scheduling notice.
Carefully read the DSHS notice in dispute. Carefully read the Notice of Hearing sent by the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). Carefully read the hearing rights brochure enclosed with the Notice of Hearing. Carefully read any documents sent by DSHS.
Call OAH, DSHS, and/or a legal service organization if you still have questions about the process or need additional or special assistance. Information about requesting accommodations will also be included. (We also have included a list of legal resources online for your convenience.)
Read any specific pamphlets about the topic of your hearing. (You can find pamphlets on line through the Washington Law Help website.) Ask DSHS if they have any written information about the type of program or notice that is the subject of your hearing.
Make notes of what you want to tell the ALJ at the hearing and gather documents you want the ALJ to look at. It's a good idea to send the documents to the ALJ before the hearing. You must send copies of anything you send to the ALJ to DSHS and any other parties (such as the other parent in child support cases).
If your hearing relates to child support, you must fill out a Washington State Child Support Worksheet and give the ALJ your last two years of tax returns and current income information. If child support for earlier years is at issue, be sure to send income information for those years as well. Read the worksheet instructions for a guideline about other factors that may be considered in establishing a child support obligation, and bring evidence if you want those factors to be considered.
Please note that firearms and other dangerous weapons are prohibited at hearings and in all OAH offices.
Witnesses and Exhibits
You may ask other people if they are willing to come to testify at your hearing as witnesses if they know information that is relevant to your hearing. Be sure you know what testimony you can expect from each witness and that each witness knows what you will be asking. If it would be inconvenient for a witness to come in person to the hearing, you may ask the witness to be available to testify by telephone. Be sure to ask the ALJ at the beginning of the hearing to allow you to present witness testimony by telephone and be sure that you know the telephone number where the witness can be reached.
If a witness is unwilling to appear at your hearing but you believe his or her testimony is necessary, contact OAH at the telephone number given with your Notice of Hearing and request a subpoena . If you want a subpoena for a witness, you must be prepared to tell the ALJ why you believe the witness is necessary, and possibly what you believe the witness will testify about. The ALJ will decide whether to grant your request for a subpoena. You will also have to provide the witness's name and address. Since it takes time to process and serve a subpoena, contact the ALJ as soon as possible. You are responsible for serving the subpoenas on your witnesses and for any costs or witness fees for your witnesses.
If you need documents, records, or other papers to prove your case other than those in your file with DSHS, but the documents are not available to you, you may request the ALJ to issue a subpoena duces tecum . You must be prepared to tell the ALJ why you believe the document is necessary to prove your case. The ALJ will decide whether to grant your request for a subpoena duces tecum. You must be able to identify the documents and who has them. Since it takes time to process and serve a subpoena duces tecum, contact the ALJ as soon as possible. You are responsible for serving the subpoena duces tecum and for payment of any fees.
Be at the scheduled place at the scheduled time. If your hearing will be held at an Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) office, see the OAH Office Directory for directions.
Bring all of the information that you want the ALJ to use in making a decision.
The ALJ will introduce the people at the hearing and explain the procedure for the hearing. Listen carefully so you will know what to expect.
Each person will have an opportunity to present information relevant to his or her case. Testimony is given under an oath administered by the ALJ . Listen carefully to what the other witnesses say and do not interrupt. Make notes to follow up when it is your turn.
Be calm. The hearing will have a structure to which you must conform, but it is informal enough so that non-lawyers can effectively present their case. The ALJ will help each person get through the process.
If your hearing is related to public assistance through a Community Service Office (CSO), more detailed information is provided in A Public Assistance Hearing--Step by Step.
The decision will not be made at the hearing. The ALJ will carefully consider all of the evidence presented at the hearing, make findings of facts, and then apply the applicable DSHS regulations to those facts. An ALJ has no authority to grant exceptions no matter how compelling your circumstances are. The resulting written decision (called an Initial Order or a Final Order, depending on the type of case) will be sent to you.
Orders involving public assistance will be sent out within 16 days. Those relating to child support, within 21 days. All others, within 30 to 60 days.
In the same envelope with your Initial or Final Order, you will receive information on how to request review or reconsideration if you disagree with the Order. If you disagree with the ALJ's Initial Order , you have the right to request review by the DSHS Board of Appeals (BOA). BOA must receive your request for review within 21 calendar days from the date stamped on the Initial Order. If you disagree with the ALJ's Final Order , you have the right to request that the ALJ reconsider that Order. Your request for reconsideration must be received by the ALJ within 10 calendar days of the date stamped on the Final Order. You also have the right to request that Superior Court review the Final Order. DSHS does not have the right to request Superior Court review of the Final Order.
For more information about public assistance hearings, please see the following: