WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a $28 million emergency spending bill to address the United States’ infant formula shortages.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the money would increase Food and Drug Administration staff to improve inspections of domestic and international suppliers, prevent fraudulent products from hitting store shelves, and better to get data on the market.
The shortage stems from an Abbott Nutrition recall in February, which exacerbated ongoing supply chain disruptions at formula makers and left fewer options on store shelves in much of the country. DeLauro has also criticized the FDA for failing to address “with a sense of urgency” the safety concerns at Abbott’s Michigan plant that caused the shortage.
The legislation gives Democrats a chance to show they’re trying to address a frightening scenario for young families across the country scrambling to ensure they have an adequate supply of food for their babies. Some Republicans have blamed President Joe Biden’s administration for the shortage, while Democrats on Tuesday blamed “greed and corporate consolidation.”
“Mothers across the country are asking us for help, and we will not force them to face this crisis alone,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “We are on their side. We will see who is on their side when we vote on this law.”
Abbott is one of just a handful of companies that produce the vast majority of the U.S. formula line, so its recall wiped out a large segment of the market. Federal regulators reached a settlement this week that allows the company to restart its Michigan plant, but Abbott said it will take eight to 10 weeks for new products to hit stores.
The House Appropriations Committee will hear from FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Thursday to discuss the agency’s budget. Legislators are expected to focus much of the discussion on the formula shortage. A panel is also expected to hold a second hearing of experts who will discuss the recall of infant formula made at Abbott’s facility and the FDA’s handling of the recall.
The House is expected to take up the emergency spending measure later this week before lawmakers return to their congressional districts for the next two weeks. It’s unclear where Republicans stand on the bill. Rep. Kay Granger, the senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, said they need more details.
“We want to do something,” Granger said. “We want to put more meat on the bone, more detail on what needs to be done.”
“Too little, too late,” added Rep. Ralph Norman, RS.C. “You should have seen this coming months ago.”
The bill would also need to be approved by an evenly split Senate, where it would need the support of at least 10 Republicans before it could go into effect. GOP senators planned the effort but did not immediately dismiss it.
“Obviously that’s a big problem. We have to help the families solve it,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of the GOP leadership.
Blunt said the government should have considered removing tariffs on European-made baby formula that meets US standards months ago.
“Whether it’s $28 million or $228 million, it doesn’t make a difference tomorrow. A week from tomorrow it probably won’t make a difference,” Blunt said.
DeLauro said much of the money would be used for inspections of facilities that make baby formula.
“The FDA does not have the adequate inspection force to be able to do this and to do this in a timely manner,” she said.
She said speed was key and then lawmakers would focus on accountability for the shortage.
“And I’m also talking about accountability with the FDA because they dragged on for several months before there was a recall,” DeLauro said.
The Democrats presented a second bill on Tuesday, which the House of Representatives is also expected to vote on this week. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., would, under extenuating circumstances, give participants in an aid program commonly known as WIC the ability to use coupons to purchase formula from any manufacturer, rather than being limited to one brand to be unavailable.
Meanwhile, the FDA is trying to boost imports by streamlining its review process to make it easier for foreign manufacturers to start shipping more formulas to the US
Swiss conglomerate Nestlé said on Tuesday it had already increased production and brought forward planned shipments to the US to alleviate shortages. Nestlé also speeds up shipments by air.
Nestlé said it prioritized shipping two products it was already importing — Gerber Good Start Extensive HA from the Netherlands and Alfaamino from Switzerland — because they fill a critical need. The products are suitable for babies with cow’s milk allergy.
Nestlé said it is reviewing FDA’s new guidance temporarily easing import restrictions on baby formula and may begin importing more varieties.
“We are reviewing the guidance and where we may be able to draw on Nestlé’s Global Nutrition Network to help,” a company spokesman said in a statement.
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