Biden, lawmakers are rushing to fix the formula shortage

Biden, lawmakers are rushing to fix the formula shortage

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President Biden and lawmakers from both parties are scrambling to address a growing shortage of baby food in many stores that is making it difficult for some parents to feed their young children.

On Thursday, Biden received an update from retailers and manufacturers including Wal-Mart, Target, Reckitt and Gerber. Then administration officials announced they were cutting red tape in hopes of getting it get more milk formula into stores faster, urge the Federal Trade Commission and Attorneys General to crack down on milk formula price gouging, and increase milk formula imports to boost domestic supply.

“We recognize that this is certainly a challenge for people across the country, something the President is very focused on, and we will do everything we can to cut red tape and take steps to increase supply,” he said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

Some House Republicans argued that lawmakers should redirect funds allocated to Ukraine amid a Russian invasion and invest some of that money in finding solutions to the shortage caused by a massive infant formula recall after Reports had reported that four infants in three states had contracted bacterial infections. They have also accused the Biden administration of prioritizing formula feeding for immigrant mothers arriving at the southern border after border officials at processing centers captured images of shelves and pallets filled with baby formula.

Meanwhile, House Democrats have scheduled several hearings this month to alert Food and Drug Administration officials to what happened, and they plan to announce legislation they say could soon help get the formula back on store shelves to fill up.

“Why is this such a flaw? What happened? What has the FDA done or not done? And what about the supply chain?” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday about what Democrats hope to learn at the hearings.

The shortage is just the latest example of the challenges Democrats in particular are facing ahead of the midterm elections as rising prices and supply chain issues remain under their watch. Republicans hope to capitalize on the Democrats’ portrayal as a party that cannot govern to attract voters, particularly moderates who are under financial pressure.

It’s about supply chain issues lingering from the pandemic and an Abbott Nutrition recall in February, forcing many stores to ration how much formula a person can buy at a time. According to a report by Retail Insights Group Datasembly, the amount of out-of-stock baby formula across the country was 43 percent at the end of last week, more than 10 percent more than at the same time last month.

That’s strong significance compared to out-of-stock data from earlier this year, when the number fluctuated between 2 percent and 8 percent.

About half of the infant formula is bought by about 1.2 million people under a government assistance program known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Biden administration said in a briefing Thursday. The Department of Agriculture is now encouraging states to allow recipients to use their benefits on a wider range of formula products and is asking states to relax requirements for stores participating in the WIC program.

In response to reports of formula price gouging, the Justice Department is also now working with attorneys general to urge them to monitor price gouging in the formula market, and Biden also on Thursday asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate reports of price gouging. hollow out

The government is also working to increase imports of formula foods — the United States produces 98 percent of its formula supplies, according to an administration fact sheet — likely from countries like Chile, Ireland, Mexico and the Netherlands.

Speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, Psaki said Biden was briefed on the formula shortage earlier this week, and she also stressed that the government understands the magnitude of the crisis.

“Our message to parents,” she added, “is that we hear you. We want to do everything we can and we will cut every element of bureaucracy to help.”

However, Psaki and other senior administration officials have been unable to give a specific date by which parents should expect the formula to be back on shelves.

Republicans have portrayed the government as callous and waited until the shortage became unsustainable to finally address it. Republicans used an Air Force One briefing by new White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, where she authorized not knowing who is responsible for a solution between embarrassed laughter in the administration.

“We heard laughter yesterday. It’s a laugh in the face of mothers and fathers across the country. There’s a reason the Republican Party is the parent’s party. It’s not just because of education, it’s because we’re committed to helping families across the country,” said GOP conference chair Elise Stefanik (RN.Y.).

Senate and House Republicans reignited the issue upon their return to Washington this week, with senators from the more conservative Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) to the more moderate Mitt Romney (R-Utah) writing letters to FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf sent demanding answers.

Trump’s most staunch supporters went to the House of Representatives on Tuesday to demand that other lawmakers prioritize helping American families over Ukrainians. Her “America First” argument was reinforced after Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) claimed in Facebook Live video that the administration was sending “pallets of baby food to the border” after receiving pictures from a border agent, who worked at the Ursula processing plant in McAllen, Texas.

“Food security is national security, and right now we have a food crisis for the most vulnerable Americans, the ones we value most, and they are our babies,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said Thursday.

Democrats responded quickly to the mounting attacks, citing Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), who first raised the issue in March and received a whistleblower complaint with Abbott alleging the recall of the formula could have been prevented had it not been for the company falsifying records of test seals and releasing untested formulas and its lax clean workplace procedures. The formula resulted in four hospitalizations and two infant deaths between September and February.

“The reason we’re here is because the FDA has taken steps to ensure babies are consuming safe infant formula,” Psaki said, striking a defensive note. “There were babies who died from taking this formula, so they did their job.”

DeLauro plans to question the FDA administrator next week when he testifies before the House Appropriations Committee, which she chairs. An Energy and Trade Subcommittee will also look into the matter, starting with a hearing in two weeks.

“We’re making sure nothing like this ever happens again and that’s important. But right now, the baby is crying, the baby is hungry — we have to deal with that now,” spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during her weekly news briefing Thursday. She also anticipates that DeLauro will introduce legislation in the coming days.

Republicans demanded that it take up legislation introduced Wednesday by freshman Rep. Stephanie I. Bice (R-Okla.) and Randy Feenstra (R-Iowa) that would force the FDA to ask Congress about its standards to regulate and Application of domestic infant formula to inform it to imports. The United States does not currently import infant formula.

“All too often Republicans are labeled pro-birth or they’re told we care for kids before they’re both,” Bice said. “That’s just not true. In fact, it’s important that we continue to support and advocate for policies that help Americans from birth throughout their lives.”

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

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