The White House on Thursday announced new steps to try to ease the ongoing baby formula shortage, as the Biden administration fends off political attacks ahead of the congressional midterm elections.
The steps include urging states to expand formula access for people who receive benefits from the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), cracking down on price gouging of formula sales, and increasing imports.
“We will continue to find other ways to support the safe and rapid increase in production and distribution of formula,” a senior administration official said. “Families across the country remain concerned about the availability of infant formula, especially families that rely on specialty products that are harder to substitute.”
A nationwide shortage of infant formula has left parents across the country scrambling, particularly those who cannot breastfeed or who have children who suffer from medical conditions and need specialty formula as a result.
Retail supply of formula has been spotty for months because of supply chain pressures and labor shortages, but the situation dramatically worsened in February with a nationwide recall of products made by Abbott Nutrition, one of the largest suppliers in the country, and subsequent shutdown of one of its key manufacturing plants because of contamination concerns.
While the shortage has been ongoing, the Biden administration has only recently come under political fire from Republicans.
A senior administration official insisted the White House has been aware of the situation for months.
“I can assure you that this is not new to the White House’s radar. We have been working on this issue since the very beginning,” the official said.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been taking the lead on responding to the crisis, and earlier this week said it was working with Abbott and other manufacturers to bring safe products to the market.
“The manufacturers reassured us that they were going to do all that was necessary to maintain increased production levels at all their facilities to make sure that they are able to meet the needs of the market at this time,” an official said.
A senior administration official insisted that despite the continued shutdown of the Abbott plant, more formula has been produced across the country in the past four weeks than during the four weeks preceding the recall.
The official did not have a timeframe for when more formula would be available on store shelves, though Abbott said in a statement Wednesday that it would take between 6 and 8 weeks, once the FDA allows their plant to resume operation.
The new measures come after President Biden spoke with retailers and formula manufacturers earlier in the day about their efforts to increase the availability and access for families in need.
Biden met with the CEOs of Walmart, Target, Mead Johnson and Gerber “to talk to them about the work they’re doing and call on them to do all they can to help families purchase and access infant formula,” the senior administration official said.