Lawsuit filed against DHS child nutrition program

An agency that contracted with the Department of Human Services to feed low-income kids in Memphis has filed suit, alleging it was wrongly terminated from the program, reports The Tennessean.

Building Futures was among the larger non-profit providers of meals and snacks for poor children in Tennessee. It was one of hundreds of non-profit agencies that contract with DHS to distribute food in Tennessee, where one in four children is at risk for hunger. DHS paid Building Futures up to $400,000 per month in 2014 for serving food at 124 sites throughout Shelby County.

But DHS and Building Futures are at odds over the exact number of meals served. DHS terminated Building Futures from its program earlier this year, barring its husband and wife operators, Bailey Phillips and Lisa Turner, from working for any similar program. The company had been operating in Arkansas for six years. Because Tennessee placed the couple on a list of banned operators, they also lost their contract with Arkansas, according to a spokeswoman with the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

The lawsuit against DHS comes as the department faces criticisms over poor oversight of two programs designed to reach at-risk children with nutritious meals. DHS is responsible for operating the Child and Adult Care Food Program, as well as a summer food program for children — distributing close to $80 million in federal dollars to middlemen like Building Futures.

An audit by the Tennessee Comptroller questioned millions of dollars in payments to some agencies, and cited poor oversight and fraud. DHS officials have said some of those payments were about incorrect paperwork, rather than fraud.