WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday the House would take action next week to address a baby formula shortage that has left parents scrambling for food for their children, while the President Biden promised to take action that would result in more formula on store shelves within “weeks or less.”
In a letter to lawmakers, Ms. Pelosi said she would fast-track a bill to give emergency authority to the federal food assistance program for women and children to relax restrictions on the types of formula that can be purchased. About half of the 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 ensure recipients can buy whatever type is available.
“Babies cry and are hungry,” Pelosi wrote. “Therefore, we must take urgent action to protect their health and well-being.”
She said her fellow House Democrats were also working on an emergency spending bill to “immediately address the infant formula shortage.” It wasn’t yet clear how big the move would be or where the funding would go, but attendees said one proposal she was considering was to buy formula from other countries that have excess supply.
“We have to move cautiously and quickly,” Biden said at the White House on Friday, when asked if the administration had responded quickly enough to the shortage that began in February. He called it the most pressing problem he faced.
In terms of increasing imports, the president said, “we have to make sure that what we’re getting is a premium product.”
Mr. Biden said the Food and Drug Administration was taking steps that would deliver results in “weeks or less, getting significantly more formula on the shelves.”
His fast-paced timeline and Ms. Pelosi’s plans reflected a growing urgency to address the shortage, which has become a national crisis and political challenge as Republicans work to weaponize the issue ahead of the midterm elections. .
The White House on Thursday announced a series of modest steps to help increase the supply of formula, including plans to increase imports and speed up manufacturing.
Republicans have spent the past few days criticizing Biden over the shortages, pointing to it as the latest example of Democrats being slow to address the most basic needs of American families, a centerpiece of his campaign message.
Republicans have latched onto a xenophobic talking point, amplified by Fox News and other conservative outlets, that Biden has prioritized undocumented immigrants over Americans by supplying pallets of baby formula to detention centers on the southwest border.
“American mothers and their babies should not suffer from the #BidenBorderCrisis,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-New York, posted on Twitter on Friday.
A White House official noted that border personnel have been required by law since 1997 to provide food, including baby formula, to detainees in their custody.
Navigating the Baby Formula Shortage in the US
A growing problem. A national shortage of baby formula, caused in part by supply chain problems and made worse by a recall from baby food maker Abbott Nutrition, has left parents confused and worried. Here are some ways to handle this uncertainty:
Democrats made #EliseStarvefanik a trending topic on Twitter on Friday, heaping criticism on Ms. Stefanik and other Republicans who have questioned the practice and pointing out that the alternative would be for the government to starve the children in their care.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Biden was considering invoking the Defense Production Act to increase production.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-New York, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, who chair the House Oversight Committee and Subcommittee on Consumer Policy, sent letters Friday to the four major formula makers requesting information on what they were doing to deal with the shortage.
They said they were also seeking documents from Abbott Nutrition related to conditions at its shuttered formula manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan, which led to a recall of several of its products after four babies became ill; two of them died.
On Friday, Abbott said it would extend rebates for alternative products through the end of August, in response to a letter from Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, requesting that they do so.
emily cochrane Y Zolan Kanno Youngs contributed report.