House Democrats will bring legislation to the floor next week to address the nationwide shortage of baby formula, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday called “unconscionable.”
In a letter to colleagues Friday afternoon, Pelosi announced that the House will bring up a bill on suspension next week that calls for giving emergency authority to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — known as the WIC program — to address supply chain issues and recalls and in turn allow the federal government to loosen some non-safety regulations amid the shortage.
Pelosi said bringing up the bill will allow the country to “get nutrition into the mouths of America’s babies.”
The WIC program equips states with federal grants for education for low-income women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, in addition to postpartum women who are not breastfeeding, according to the Food and Nutrition Service. It does, however, set requirements for the type of formula covered by the program.
The speaker also announced that Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) is planning to bring an Emergency Supplemental Appropriation to the floor “to immediately address the infant formula shortage.” That move is in addition to a pair of hearings the committee is scheduled to hold on the issue later this month.
The Energy and Commerce Committee is also slated to hold a hearing on the issue later this month, Pelosi said, noting that it comes “as we continue shining a bright light on this urgent issue and explore further actions the Congress could take.”
“We must ensure that a baby formula shortage never happens again,” she added.
The U.S. has been struggling with a nationwide shortage of instant baby formula since at least the week starting April 24, when the out-of-stock percentage of the product hit 40 percent, according to an analysis by retail tracking company Datasembly.
Since then, lawmakers have seized on the issue politically — with Republicans blaming the Biden administration for the scarcity, and Democrats scrambling to react to the problem at hand.
The White House on Thursday announced new measures in an effort to abate the shortage, including expanding formula access for individuals eligible for the WIC program, and the House Oversight and Reform Committee is launching a probe into the scarcity.
“It is unconscionable and tragic that, right now, families cannot find safe, affordable baby formula to keep their children healthy and growing,” Pelosi wrote in the letter. “The shortage has taken an especially dangerous toll on women and children from underserved communities: about half of infant formula sold nationwide is purchased with WIC (Women, Infant and Children) benefits, which restrict the types of formulas that recipients can buy.”
The speaker said that while it is important to ensure that another shortage does not reoccur in the future, the House “must take urgent action” to prevent the effects of the current situation.
“Ensuring that every precious baby has the nutrition that he or she needs is a matter of the baby’s life and development,” Pelosi said. “While it is essential that we ensure that this issue never happens again, right now the babies are crying and the babies are hungry – so we must take urgent action to protect their health and well-being.”