Two Kennebec County women claim that the company contracted by the state to run the worker training part of its welfare program illegally limited their access to educational opportunities and child care by giving them false information about benefits and demanding that they work while attending classes.

Sara Halsey of Augusta and Susan Kiralis-Vernon of Vassalboro are seeking $250,000 each in punitive damages and unspecified compensatory damages from Fedcap Rehabilitation Services, Inc., of Augusta.

The state’s Department of Health and Human Services has contracted with Fedcap since 2016 to run its ASPIRE program, which provides worker training services to welfare recipients. Part of a New York-based nonprofit organization, Fedcap has offices across the state to provide worker training.

State workers provided the services until former Gov. Paul LePage’s administration contracted out the function in 2016 and awarded Fedcap a $62.5 million contract. The lawsuit comes about five months before Fedcap’s contract with the state expires and as Gov. Janet Mills’ administration seeks proposals to run the program starting Oct. 1.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor by lawyers with the organization Maine Equal Justice.

Oriana Farnham, who represents the women, said Thursday that her organization has heard from people all over the state about problems they have encountered dealing with Fedcap in obtaining information about the services for which they and their families qualify.

“Sara and Susan want people to hear about the problems they’ve had with Fedcap and they want the company to be held accountable,” the attorney said.

A Fedcap representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ASPIRE stands for Additional Support for People in Retraining and Employment. Its participants are recipients of benefits through the state’s federally funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program. Fedcap administers ASPIRE under the name “Breaking the Cycle.”

“[Fedcap] has in fact perpetuated the cycle of poverty in Maine by failing to administer the program’s non-discretionary functions with reasonable care and loyalty,” the complaint said. “Sara Halsey and Susan Kiralis-Vernon are two women who enrolled in the ASPIRE-TANF program with career goals and families to support. Fedcap thwarted their access to the program’s benefits in violation of plaintiffs’ rights under state law.”

As a result, the women suffered economic damages and severe emotional distress, the lawsuit claims. Neither woman was informed of support services available to them while enrolled in college courses, including expenses for child care through the Parents as Scholars program. They also allegedly were required to work to maintain their TANF benefits when program rules did not actually require that.

So far, neither woman has been able to complete her education because of Fedcap’s alleged failure to inform them of all the services available, which is required under the organization’s contract with the state, the lawsuit alleged.

Fedcap continues to administer the ASPIRE program for the department but its contract expires in September. DHHS has put out a request for proposals for a new contract to administer the program through 2031.