RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)–U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine say help is on the way for parents struggling with baby formula shortages.
It comes as mothers like Jenny Galvez are continuing to encounter empty shelves and product limits at several major retailers.
“She is very stressed because her baby needs the milk so she is driving from one place to another trying to get that formula,” Galvez said through a translator.
Galvez stopped by a baby drive hosted by Waymakers Foundation in Chesterfield on Wednesday.
Natalie Ramos-Almendarez, the organization’s public relations coordinator, said the shortage has slowed down donations significantly with many low-income families still depending on their support.
“If we don’t find more resources to get more formula to these mothers, what’re they going to do? A lot of them are using expired or used formulas because that’s their only option,” Ramos-Almendarez said.
Warner and Kaine unpacked what steps are being taken by the federal government in press conferences on Wednesday.
In a May 13 letter to major manufacturers, Warner and Kaine joined other lawmakers in calling for an urgent increase in production.
The letter said accessing formulas has become increasingly difficult over the past several months. It said, in several states, more than half of their infant formula supply was sold out by the last week of April.
Asked if the White House and Congress should’ve acted sooner, Kaine said, “In retrospect it’s easy to say that. I only became aware of the shortage within the last month.”
“I think the White House is moving aggressively now,” Warner said. “There has been reluctance for a long time, particularly from some of my Republican colleagues, to kind of mess with market mechanisms but this case right now is an example where traditional market mechanisms that maintain a full supply chain are breaking down and you do need this level of government intervention.”
After the press conferences on Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced he would invoke the Defense Production Act to address the baby formula shortage. The law gives Biden the power to compel private companies to produce goods and prioritize government requests.
Asked about that option, Kaine said, “I think the Biden administration is working with producers to get them to produce more but, if they are unwilling to do that, I do think the Defense Production Act should of course be on the table as a tool for the short term. This is not something that you need to use forever.”
Warner wasn’t so sure. He said he would need to do more research.
“My understanding is…it’s really not the most useful tool,” Warner said.
The Biden Administration also recently announced that they’re going to allow the importation of baby formula from other countries and ease other regulations to reduce supply chain issues. Warner said, big picture, this is just the latest example of why the United States needs to establish more reliable pathways for essential items.
Meanwhile, Abbott Nutrition, one of the largest formula manufacturers in the country, is preparing to reopen after reaching an agreement with the federal government. They shut down in February due to safety concerns. The company said in a statement that it will be more than two months before customers will see products from the plant return to store shelves.
Warner said more resources are needed to prevent a repeat of what he called a crisis.
“We only have seven formula inspectors at the FDA. That’s a little bit crazy if we are going to try to make sure we get more production back online in a way that is safe,” Warner said.
Governor Glenn Youngkin issued a statement on Biden’s announcement Wednesday evening through a spokesperson.
“Invoking the Defense Production Act in this way has the potential to speed production and get formula to mothers faster but let’s not forget the Biden administration’s FDA decision to shut down manufacturing without a viable backup plan caused this widespread chaos for parents across the country. In the meantime, the VDH is closely monitoring the supply of formula and answering any questions from parents about alternatives. Getting inventory in Virginia back to normal levels is a priority for the Governor and his team.”Governor Glenn Youngkin’s Spokesperson Macaulay Porter