Senate bill will help food aid recipients find formula despite shortage | Shortage of infant formula in the United States

The Senate on Thursday approved a bill to ease the shortage of infant formula for families participating in a government assistance program that accounts for about half of all formula purchased in the United States.

The House passed the bill the day before, so it now falls to Joe Biden to be signed into law.

Participants in the special supplementary nutrition program for women, infants and children, known as Wic, receive vouchers which are redeemed for specific foods to supplement their diet. Vouchers can generally only be used to purchase one brand of infant formula, which encourages the manufacturer to offer deep discounts to secure a state’s business.

The bill allows, in extenuating circumstances, the Department of Agriculture to waive certain requirements so that Wic attendees can purchase any brand available.

“Now millions of parents will have an easier time finding the formula they need,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the bill passed.

Lawmakers are also considering bolstering the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) staff with a $28 million emergency spending bill. That legislation also passed the House this week, but faces uncertain prospects in the Senate.

The supply of formula milk in the United States has been severely reduced in recent weeks after a February recall by Abbott exacerbated supply chain disruptions among formula manufacturers, leaving fewer options on store shelves and anxious parents struggling to find food for their children.

Although infant formula has already been affected by pandemic-related supply chain issues, the nationwide shortage has worsened with Abbott’s recall, which stems from reported illnesses and deaths in infants.

In March, the FDA issued a warning to consumers, urging them to be aware of certain Similac, Alimentum and EleCare brand products that have been recalled.

The FDA launched an investigation after complaints emerged of bacterial infections in four infants who consumed powdered infant formula produced at Abbott Nutrition’s Michigan facilities.

According to reports, all four infants were hospitalized and the bacterial infection may have contributed to the deaths of two of them.

The FDA chief told lawmakers on Thursday that the plant could be operational as early as next week.

Norman D. Briggs