House plans vote to ease formula crisis as Biden pledges to act quickly

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WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday the House will take action next week to address the formula shortage that has left parents desperate for food for their children, as President Biden pledged action that would result in more formula on store shelves in “weeks or less.”

In a letter to lawmakers, Ms Pelosi said she would fast-track a bill granting emergency authority to the federal food assistance program for women and children to ease restrictions on the types of formula 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 ensure that recipients can purchase any available type.

“Babies are crying and babies are hungry,” Ms Pelosi wrote. “We must therefore 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 baby formula shortage.” It was not yet clear how big the measure would be or where the funding would go, but aides said one proposal being considered was to buy infant formula from other countries that have oversupply.

“We need to move cautiously and quickly,” Biden said at the White House on Friday, when asked if the administration had responded quickly enough to a shortage that began in February. He called it the most pressing problem he faced.

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In terms of increasing imports, the president said, “we have to make sure that what we are getting is actually top-notch product.”

Mr. Biden said the Food and Drug Administration was taking action that would deliver results in “weeks or less, getting a lot more formulas on the shelves.”

Her rapid 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 seek to weaponize the issue ahead of the midterm elections.

The White House on Thursday announced a series of modest measures to help increase formula supply, including plans to increase imports and ramp up manufacturing.

Republicans have spent the past few days hammering Mr Biden for the shortage, pointing to it as the latest example of Democrats being slow to meet the most basic needs of American families, a central part of their campaign message.

Republicans latched onto a xenophobic talking point, amplified by TSWT News and other conservative outlets, that Mr. Biden prioritized undocumented immigrants over Americans by supplying pallets of baby formula to centers for detention at the southwestern border.

“American mothers and their babies should not suffer because of the #BidenBorderCrisis,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, posted on Twitter Friday.

A White House official noted that it has been mandatory by law since 1997 for border personnel to provide food, including formula, to detainees in their custody.

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Democrats made #EliseStarvefanik a trending topic on Twitter on Friday, slamming Ms. Stefanik and other Republicans who questioned the practice and noting that the alternative would be for the government to starve the children in its care. .

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Mr Biden was considering invoking the Defense Production Act to increase production.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois, who chairs the House Oversight Committee and Consumer Policy Subcommittee, sent letters on Friday to the four major formula makers requesting information on what they were doing to address the shortage.

They said they were also seeking documentation from Abbott Nutrition regarding conditions at its closed formula-making plant in Sturgis, Michigan, which led to the recall of several of its products after four infants fell sick; two of them died.

On Friday, Abbott announced it would extend rebates for alternative products until the end of August, in response to a letter from Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, asking them to do so.

Emily Cochrane and Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed report.

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