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TPR Sues USDA For Explanation of $39M Food Box Contract Awarded To Wedding Planner With Little Experience

Paul Flahive / Texas Public Radio
CRE8AD8 Meal boxes at a food distribution site.

Texas Public Radio filed a lawsuit in federal court for the Western District of Texas Tuesday to find out why the United States Department of Agriculture awarded a $39.1 million contract to help feed families in need to a San Antonio wedding planner with little experience.

The Trump Administration’s $4 billion Farmers to Families program has aimed to connect food distributors with families and food banks to help feed the growing number of people lining up outside food banks across the country. The program was set up in just one month after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S.in March.

| Related: No End In Sight For Pandemic Food Lines |

San Antonio-based CRE8AD8 LLC received the USDA contract in May to deliver 750,000 food boxes to nonprofits across the Southwest despite having no experience delivering large quantities of food. The company also lacked the trucks to transport the boxes and a necessary license.

Area congressmen called for the contract to be cancelled. Food banks across the state who were otherwise complimentary of USDA, pointed to Farmers to Families and CRE8AD8 as an example of problems in the federal response.

Since the revelations around the CRE8AD8 contract were first reported in the San Antonio Express-News, TPR has closely monitored the progress of the contract, the Farmers to Families program, as well as the increasing need in San Antonio and Texas.

| Related: Questions and Cancellations Create Doubts For San Antonio-Based Event Planner’s USDA Contract |

Ultimately, CRE8AD8 was only able to complete two-thirds of its obligations before the USDA eventually terminated its contract with the company in July.

The John Wood Federal Courthouse in San Antonio

TPR filed Freedom of Information requests in May and July to see the winning proposal placed by CRE8AD8 and invoices sent by the company to the USDA.

“When it is functioning correctly, the Freedom of Information Act ensures prompt disclosure of records like these that show whether government programs are being run efficiently or whether they could be improved so that taxpayer dollars could stretch further,” said Stephanie Owens, an SMU law student enrolled in the Dedman School of Law First Amendment Clinic, which filed the complaint on TPR’s behalf.

“Open records laws are critical tools for journalists working to hold government agencies accountable to our citizens,” said TPR President and CEO Joyce Slocum, “When a governmental agency fails to comply with the law, the appropriate recourse is in the courts. We are incredibly grateful for the support of the First Amendment Clinic at SMU in pursuing this case. The Clinic’s director, Tom Leatherbury, is a renowned champion of First Amendment values.”

One day after TPR filed its complaint, the USDA has released some redacted documents related to CRE8AD8. Those documents are already producing more questions around the contract awarded to the event planner.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive
As TPR's news director, Katz leads the organization’s news and journalism efforts, overseeing the newsroom’s day-to-day management and the development of a strategic vision for the news division. He also serves on the organization’s executive leadership team.