Legislation that aims to protect low-income families from infant formula shortages passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Thursday.
The Access to Baby Formula Act passed the House late Wednesday on a rare bipartisan vote of 414-9, and now heads to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
“It’s rare that we have unanimity in the Senate on important measures, and I wish we had more. But this is one of those important issues, and I am glad we are acting with one voice,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor.
The legislation is aimed at expanding the pandemic-era flexibilities granted to the government’s nutrition program for women, infants and children (WIC). WIC participants buy about half the baby formula in the U.S., making the program the nation’s largest purchaser of formula.
“The step we are taking today is going to add flexibility and relief to WIC beneficiaries, and almost half of all baby formula consumed in the U.S. is by WIC beneficiaries. Now millions of parents will have an easier time finding the baby formula they need,” Schumer said.
Each state awards a sole-source contract to a formula manufacturer to provide its product to WIC participants. As a result, WIC participants can only redeem their WIC voucher for formula made by the manufacturer that holds the contract for that state.
WIC benefits restrict the types of formulas that recipients can buy, as part of the program’s contracting rules. Abbott Nutrition is one of just two companies that serve nearly 90 percent of all infants in the program.
The bill would allow the Department of Agriculture to waive WIC’s contract restrictions during emergencies, disasters and supply chain disruptions, meaning families would be able to use WIC benefits to purchase whatever formula is available.
But the fate of a separate House bill to provide the Food and Drug Administration $28 million in emergency funding is uncertain. That legislation passed the House 231-192, but GOP senators have expressed wariness about spending the money.