- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2022

House Democrats plan to bring up legislation this week to address a national baby formula shortage, including a bill that would allow low-income parents easier access to formula, and legislation authorizing emergency spending on imported formula.

Infant formula has become much harder to find since Abbott Nutrition, a major formula-producing company, shut down its Sturgis, Michigan plant in February after several infants became sick with cronobacter infections. Two infants died and the powdered formula was recalled.

A bill to be introduced by the House Education and the Workforce Committee and voted on this week would allow low-income mothers who participate in the special federal supplemental nutrition program called WIC to purchase a broader array of formulas, due to the shortage of many specific brands currently allowed under the program.

A top aide to Speaker Pelosi did not immediately respond to a question about when the House will vote on the supplemental spending bill. Mrs. Pelosi told ABC News on Sunday the funding would be used to purchase formulas from FDA-approved facilities in Chile, Mexico, Ireland and the Netherlands.

President Biden announced last week he would lift some restrictions on importing baby formula but that the supplies shipped in from other countries would have to meet U.S. quality standards.

“We must do something as quickly as possible, but as safely as possible, and use caution, for these babies,” Mrs. Pelosi said Sunday. “But we have to move quickly to do that. And part of this is, again, the supply chain issue.”

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Supply chain snarls have been causing inventory shortages, but the closure of the Abbott plant in Michigan quickly escalated the problem.

Abbott officials said their own investigation found no traces in their plant of the specific type of cronobacter bacteria that sickened the infants. The Centers for Disease Control last week closed its own probe, but the FDA investigation is ongoing and the plant remains shuttered.

Plant officials told The Washington Times they can reopen within two weeks once they receive FDA clearance. It will take an additional six to eight weeks to get formula back on store shelves after that, they said.

The FDA did not respond to a request seeking information on when the Sturgis facility may be allowed to reopen.

Democrats, meanwhile, have been criticized for moving too slowly to address empty store shelves. Republicans have denounced the Biden administration for doing too little to remedy the shortage while allowing the government to send pallets of scarce infant formula to feed the children of illegal immigrants who have flooded the southern border.

The top female in House GOP leadership, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who is about to have a baby, criticized Democrats for leaving store shelves empty while ensuring illegal immigrants have access to formula.

SEE ALSO: Baby formula crisis punctuates steep decline in support for Biden, Dems, with suburban moms

“Joe Biden continues to put America LAST by shipping pallets of baby formula to the southern border as American families face empty shelves,” Mrs. Stefanik tweeted. “This is unacceptable. American mothers and their babies shouldn’t suffer because of the #BidenBorderCrisis.”

Mrs. Pelosi called Mrs. Stefanik’s tweet “totally irresponsible,” and said “babies are crying, we need to get them food.”

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, rejected Abbott‘s conclusion that the infants were not sickened from formula from the Sturgis plant. Mrs. DeLauro said Democrats need to make clear to parents why there are shortages.

“We want to make sure they understand, we want to protect them from the contaminated product that was on the market from Abbott Nutrition,” she told MSNBC on Sunday.

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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