Health Care

Five ways Democrats are trying to tackle the baby formula shortage

Democrats are facing rising pressure to take action on the baby formula shortage as parents struggle to feed their children due to a series of problems that have left formula scarce.

In a flurry of legislation, actions and recommendations this week, the Biden administration and congressional Democrats have sought to show action on the shortage.

Yet some measures are focused on preventing future shortages, and others may not have an impact on supply chains or availability for weeks or months, even if passed.

The closure of an Abbott Nutrition plant in Michigan over safety concerns in February compounded a nationwide baby formula shortage due to supply chain and labor issues, and thrust the issue into the political spotlight heading into midterm elections.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday said a deal had been reached with Abbott to reopen the crucial plant, which the company said could allow operations to restart within two weeks.

Here are measures Democrats have taken this week to tackle the country’s baby formula shortage.

Biden invokes the Defense Production Act

President Biden on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act in an effort to address the shortage. 

“Directing firms to prioritize and allocate the production of key infant formula inputs will help increase production and speed up in supply chains,” the White House said. 

The administration also announced that Biden would launch “Operation Fly Formula.”

Through that program, Defense Department commercial aircrafts will be used to pick up baby formula that meets U.S. standards from overseas to stock American shelves quickly. 

“Imports of baby formula will serve as a bridge to this ramped up production, therefore, I am requesting you take all appropriate measures available to get additional safe formula into the country immediately,” Biden said in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.  

House bills to combat the shortage

The House has passed two bills to combat the shortage

The first would provide $28 million in emergency funding to the FDA. With that funding, the agency will increase inspections of formula produced in foreign plants and work to be prepared to address any future shortages.

That bill, sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), passed with a vote of 231-192. In the Democratic majority House, lawmakers voted in large part along party lines.

The other bill passed with more bipartisan support in a vote of 414-9, with nine Republicans voting against the measure. 

That bill would permanently loosen the restrictions on which formula types can be purchased by people in the federal low-income assistance program for women, children and infants.

On Thursday, it was also passed by the Senate and will now move to Biden’s desk for approval.

Senate bill to prevent future shortages

A group of Democratic senators including Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-lll.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced the Protect Infants from Formula Shortages Act on Thursday. 

The legislation would require manufacturers to alert the FDA of any potential supply disruptions so the agency has time to prepare for shortages.

“I am introducing the Protect Infants from Formula Shortages Act to avoid another massive disruption in availability of life-saving and life-sustaining formula and other products,” Casey said in a statement. 

“I will continue to push Abbott and the FDA to get the answers we need to make sure no family ever has to go through the fear and frustration parents are feeling now,” he added.  

Pressing the FDA for answers

Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) wrote to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Thursday, asking him to provide more information about what the agency knew ahead of the shortage. 

Specifically, they asked Califf for information about when his agency inspected Abbott’s Michigan facility.

“While we appreciate the steps currently being taken by the [FDA], we are concerned that the Agency did not take these actions sooner, and we believe that more must be done to safely alleviate the shortage as quickly as possible,” the senators wrote, arguing that faster action “would have mitigated the impact of the loss of a major manufacturing facility and prevented this crisis.”

Requests for a White House coordinator 

Thirty-two Senate Democrats wrote to Biden on Wednesday to ask the president to appoint a White House coordinator to address the ongoing issue. 

“We urge you to immediately assign a coordinator within the White House to work with manufacturers directly and oversee the development and implementation of a national strategy for increasing the resiliency of the infant formula supply chain and protecting against future contamination and shortages,” the group said in their letter, released by Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Casey.

The lawmakers also pressed Biden to implement a strategy that would “rapidly address immediate needs associated with the shortage, including identifying specific action steps and deadlines for addressing the shortage.”

They also encouraged the administration to “provide critical information to parents and caregivers, including where to find formula, how to transition from one formula to another, if needed, and what to do if a medical or specialty formula is unavailable.”

Since the request, the FDA appointed Janet Woodcock, the agency’s acting commissioner before Califf was confirmed, to lead its effort addressing the shortage. The choice came despite some criticism that Woodcock lacks food policy experience, according to Politico.

Tags Baby Formula baby formula shortage Baby formula shortage Bob Casey Defense Production Act Food and Drug Administration Joe Biden President Joe Biden Robert Califf

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