02:12 - Source: CNN
See how whistleblower complaint led to baby formula shortage
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As a nationwide baby formula shortage continues, the federal government says it plans to continue to allow families who use nutrition benefits to afford baby formula to have an expanded range of options when they go to the grocery store.

Families who buy formula through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children, or WIC, will now be able to buy substitutes for their regular formula through December 31, or for 60 days after their state’s emergency declaration ends, whichever is earliest, according to statement from the United States Department of Agriculture. That flexibility had been set to expire at the end of September.

About half of all baby formula sold in in the United States is purchased with WIC benefits.

The extension of these flexibilities is an acknowledgement that some families are still having trouble finding the brands and sizes their benefits allow them to buy more than six months into the shortage.

After a nationwide recall of baby formula and the subsequent shut down of a major manufacturing plant triggered a severe shortage in February, the United States Department of Agriculture issued a series of waivers so that families who buy baby formula with government assistance could get a wider range of sizes and brands with their benefits.

Abbott Nutrition, the manufacturer at the heart of the shortage, also pledged to cover the cost for families who needed to buy alternative formulas. Abbott hold the contracts to supply baby formula to WIC programs in 40 US states and territories.

These additional flexibilities were initially available through the end of August, but subsequently extended until the end of September, and will now be available from the federal government through the end of the year. Abbott now says it will continue to reimburse states to cover the cost for purchasing alternative brands through October 31, according to Abbott spokesperson John Koval.

Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a news release the agency “recognizes the flexibilities provided by these waivers remain necessary as we continue to pull every lever to address infant formula supply issues and provide certainty for families.

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“We will continue to work all hands on deck to ensure families can access infant formula, as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s whole-of-government approach to get more safe formula on store shelves nationwide.”

The USDA’s planned December 31 expiration date will provide state agencies with continued flexibility while the nationwide supply of infant formula recovers, according to the news release.

Brian Dittmeier, senior director of public policy with the National WIC Association, praised the move and urged formula manufacturers to fully match the USDA’s extension.

“USDA’s steps to provide States with longer-term clarity must be matched by clear commitments from infant formula manufacturers to ensure that WIC families will have continued access to additional options until supply of contract formulas and consumer confidence in those products are restored,” Dittmeier said. The association “will continue to work with USDA, the manufacturing sector, retailers and other vital stakeholders to both shore up supply and take the comprehensive steps needed to build a more resilient infant feeding sector.”