In this file photo from March 2020, Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, left, listens as Bob Anderson, the new state Department of Human Services director, speaks about his appointment. Last week, Anderson asked lawmakers to boost the monthly benefit for a family receiving welfare benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program from $170 per month to $260 for a family of three.
JACKSON – The state’s welfare agency intends to contract with law firm Jones Walker to claw back millions of allegedly misspent federal dollars in a civil suit that involves a Northeast Mississippi nonprofit organization.
A communications official for Gov. Tate Reeves’ office on Saturday confirmed to the Daily Journal that the Mississippi State Department of Human Services will contract with the Jackson-based firm in the civil action suing dozens of people and businesses.
The civil litigation has experienced delays since MDHS, with Reeves’ approval, decided to cut ties with the initial attorney — former federal prosecutor Brad Pigott — it hired to recoup the welfare dollars.
Pigott believed that state officials fired him because of political reasons. Reeves has previously said that he signed off on Pigott’s firing because the former prosecutor “seemed much more interested in getting his name in print” than working on the litigation.
Mark Jones, a spokesperson for the Department of Human Services, said in a statement that the agency is working with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, who must approve the choice for outside counsel, but the statement did not mention the Jones Walker firm.
“We hope to get a new attorney in place soon following approval by all appropriate parties,” Jones said
It’s unclear which attorney at the firm will act as lead counsel or how much the state will pay the firm for its services. The firm and its members regularly donate to Mississippi elected officials, according to campaign filings with the Secretary of State’s office.
DHS is attempting to claw back money from dozens of people and companies, including the Tupelo-based Family Resource Center, over claims of misspending money associated with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
FRC Director Christi Webb, who has maintained through attorneys that she has done nothing wrong, was also scheduled to participate in a deposition in September. However, those depositions have been delayed.
The Mississippi Attorney General’s Office and the Mississippi State Personnel Board must also approve of DHS’s contract with Jones Walker. The personnel board’s next meeting is Aug. 18, according to the agency’s website. It’s unclear if the contract will go before the board at the upcoming meeting.
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