Senate legislation takes steps to protect low income families from formal shortages

The Senate has passed legislation to protect low-income families from infant formula shortages passed the upper house of Congress through unanimous consent on Thursday. 

According to a report by The Hill, the Access to Baby Formula Act passed the House late on Wednesday in what is being called a “rare bipartisan vote” of 414-9 and is now making its way to President Joe Biden’s desk for a 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 bill is a way of expanding the pandemic-era flexibilities for government nutrition programs for women, infants, and children (WIC), according to The Hill’s analysis of the program. 

WIC participants buy almost half of the formula purchased in the United States, making the government the largest purchaser of the now-difficult to find infant dietary item. 

“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.

Every state awards a contract to formula manufacturers to provide the product to WIC participants in a sole-source contract. That means that WIC participants can only redeem their WIC voucher for the formula made by the manufacturer. 

However, the bill provides WIC benefits and allows the Department of Agriculture to waive WIC’s contract restrictions during emergencies, disasters, and supply chain disruptions, giving WIC participants the ability to purchase whatever formula they can find.