WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday the House would take action next week to address the baby food shortage that has left parents desperate for food for their children, as President Biden promised action that would result in more formula on store shelves inside. “weeks or less.”
In a letter to lawmakers, Ms. Pelosi said she would expedite a bill to grant emergency powers to the federal food aid program for women and children to ease restrictions on the types of formulas that can be purchased. About half of infant formula sold nationwide is purchased through benefits provided by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC. Relaxing the rules could help recipients buy any type available.
“The babies are crying and the babies are hungry,” Ms Pelosi wrote. “So we need to take urgent action to protect their health and well-being.”
She said her fellow Democrats in the House were also working on an emergency spending bill to “immediately address the infant formula shortage.” It was not yet clear how big the measure would be or where the funding would go, but aides said one proposal under consideration is to buy formulas from other countries with oversupply.
“We need to act both cautiously and quickly,” Biden said at the White House on Friday, when asked if the administration had responded quickly enough to a deficit that began in February. He called it the most pressing problem he faced.
In terms of increasing imports, the president said, “we need to make sure that what we get is actually a first-class product.”
Mr. Biden said the Food and Drug Administration was taking steps that would deliver results in “weeks or less, and get significantly more formula on the shelves.”
His fast-paced timetable and Ms. Pelosi’s plans reflected a growing urgency to address the deficit, which has become a national crisis and political challenge as Republicans work to arm the issue ahead of the midterm elections.
The White House announced a series of modest measures on Thursday to increase formula supply, including plans to increase imports and speed up production.
Republicans in recent days have been suing Mr. Biden for the deficit, pointing out that this is the latest example of Democrats being slow to meet the most basic needs of American families, a central part of their campaign message.
Republicans have maintained a xenophobic topic of conversation, reinforced by Fox News and other conservative media, that Mr. Biden has prioritized undocumented immigrants over Americans by providing pallets of baby food to detention centers on the Southwestern border.
“American mothers and their babies should not suffer from the #BidenBorderCrisis,” said New York Republican Representative Elise Stefanik, posted on Twitter on Friday.
A White House official noted that since 1997, it has been a legal requirement for border officials to provide food, including baby food, to detainees in their custody.
Navigating the US Baby Food Shortage
A growing problem. A nationwide baby food shortage – caused in part by supply chain problems and exacerbated by a recall from baby food manufacturer Abbott Nutrition – has left parents confused and concerned. Here are some ways to deal with this uncertainty:
Democrats made #EliseStarvefanik a trending topic on Twitter on Friday, widely criticizing Ms. Stefanik and other Republicans who have questioned the practice, noting that the alternative would be for the government to starve children in its care.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Biden is considering invoking the Defense Production Act to increase production.
New York Democrat Carolyn B. Maloney and Illinois Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi, who chair the House Oversight Committee and the Consumer Policy Subcommittee, sent letters to the four major formula manufacturers on Friday requesting information. about what they were doing to address the shortage.
They said they were also seeking documents from Abbott Nutrition regarding the conditions of its shuttered formula milk factory in Sturgis, Michigan, which led to recalls of several of its products after four babies became ill; two of them died.
On Friday, Abbott said it would extend discounts for alternative products until the end of August, in response to a letter from Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, asking it to do so.
Emily Cochrane and Zolan Kanno Youngs reporting contributed.