Administration officials have used most of the federal resources available as a crucial formula for plant struggles to increase production.
Officials in the Biden administration are debating whether or not to take more measures to prevent a widespread reduction in low-income Americans’ access to newborn formula as shortages persist in various parts of the country.
With the current waivers for low-income mothers and infants to access formula through the federal WIC nutrition programme set to expire on September 30, two people, including a Biden administration official, say that the administration is likely to extend the national flexibilities in the coming days.
The WIC programme buys 50 per cent of the nation’s infant formula. The move would help the administration reduce financial burdens for those families when it is trying to highlight President Joe Biden’s efforts to ease economic hardship for Americans in the run-up to the November midterm elections while limiting GOP political attacks around infant formula stocks.
“What we don’t want is another huge disruption in access when Abbott is still not putting out its usual supply flow,” said a USDA official who was not authorised to speak publicly about the topic.
With the Abbott Nutrition factory at the heart of the shortages still not running at total capacity, extending the waivers would give families more leeway to purchase alternative formula brands. Since mid-February, when FDA inspectors discovered strains of a bacteria that can be lethal to infants, low-income families who rely on WIC have been hit especially hard by Abbott’s shutdown and recall of several goods made at its Sturgis, Michigan plant.
The Agriculture Department manages WIC, and they have indicated they are “very seriously looking at extending the flexibilities and hopes to do so soon.”
According to the three sources, if Abbott’s usual Similac product is out of supply, the company plans to cover another month of refunds it has been offering to WIC customers so that they can purchase whatever formula is in store regardless of who the manufacturer is. Abbott’s spokesperson John Koval confirmed the change to POLITICO.
Some doctors are worried that low-income families won’t be able to meet their WIC deadlines since supplies are running low in some areas of the country. Again, retailers in places like New York City are only allowing one bottle of infant formula per customer. Officials close to Biden have speculated in private that Abbott’s move, after initially resisting pressure from the administration this spring to pay for such refunds, indicates the business does not anticipate having enough supply of its standard Similac formula for some time still.
Abbott’s Koval confirmed that the Sturgis factory is not currently producing Similac. Still, he assured investors that the business is “trying to restart Similac production as soon as we can” and will provide updates as they are available.
After a recall in February and another factory closure in June due to Abbott’s claim that heavy rains caused flooding in the facility, Abbott has been delivering newly made EleCare formula from its Sturgis plant since early July, as reported first by POLITICO. Abbott has started providing free cases of EleCare, a specialist formula for newborns with milk and other allergies, to needy families. However, supplies are still meagre.