Biden dismisses the idea that his administration should have acted sooner on baby formula shortage

In response to comments in the White House Rose Garden, Biden pushed back when asked if the government should have responded more quickly to baby food shortages across the country, telling CNN’s Jeremy Diamond: “If we had been better mind readers, think I think we could have done that.”

The president later said that solving the problem would require the federal government to “act both cautiously and quickly,” adding that it was important to “ensure that what we get is, in fact, a first-class product.”

Manufacturers have said they are producing at full capacity, but it is not enough to keep up with current demand. In fact, U.S. supermarket shelves had less infant formula last week than the week before, according to a new report from Datasembly, a real-time data tracking agency that measures how much product is available.

New management actions

The Biden administration on Friday announced several measures aimed at tackling the burden of the deficit.

After White House press secretary Jen Psaki struggled Thursday to answer the administration’s guidelines for a concerned parent who can’t find formula to feed their baby, she announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has launched a new website to help parents seeking infant formula amid national shortages. Individuals can visit HHS.gov/formula, which Psaki said will “provide resources and places parents can go to obtain formula, including contacts with companies, food banks (and) health care providers.”

Psaki seemed to suggest that the website was created in recent days amid growing concerns.

“We wanted to make (information) easily available and accessible to people. But before that period, of course, we would not have seen what we have seen in recent days,” Psaki added.

The US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf also said the FDA is “working around the clock” to get more formulas on shelves and will announce plans next week to streamline formula imports. While the commissioner did not specify exactly when formula stock would return to normal, he wrote that the new and ongoing steps “will drastically improve supply in the US in a matter of weeks”.

Califf also said the FDA will continue to work with existing manufacturers to increase production. FDA data, he said on Twitter, “indicates stock prices in stores are stabilizing, but we continue to work around the clock to further increase availability.”

The measures come after the White House unveiled on Thursday a series of limited steps to address the shortage, including importing more formula from abroad, urging states to give recipients of government nutritional aid more flexibility in the varieties. of infant formula they can buy and are calling on the Federal Trade Commission and the state attorneys general to address manufacturer price pushbacks.
Administration officials have noted that production has increased since the mass recall of the formula produced by Abbott Nutrition in February exacerbated the current problem.

On Friday, a White House spokesperson said Abbott has committed to providing states with critical flexibility until the end of August in response to a letter from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

This means that families with (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC) will be able to purchase every product available in the coming months, and states and retailers can plan ahead as they work to keep their supplies on the shelf. , and especially provide security to families,” said the spokesperson.

Abbott said the company is arranging delivery from a manufacturing facility in Ireland to serve WIC families. It also said it worked with the US Department of Agricitsir’s formula, Similac, is not available.

Abbott is the exclusive supplier of infant formula to approximately half of infants participating in WIC.

However, the discounts may not be helpful in situations where all products are out of stock or a baby cannot easily switch to another product.

Abbott said it was in the process of increasing formula offerings across the board by ramping up production at other facilities. In addition, the company says it is offering more and more generous coupons so that consumers can buy its products at a discounted price.

Invoking the Defense Production Act pending

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain this week told a member of Congress that the White House is “definitely” and “strongly” considering appealing to President Joe Biden under the Defense Production Act to address the pressing problem of the shortage. to tackle baby food in the country.

Virginia Democratic Representative Abigail Spanberger told CNN Friday morning that she has spoken with Klain twice in the past two days to discuss the deficit, and said Klain had told her that the White House is using the law as a potential “potential for” very important step”. The opportunity to use the Defense Production Act — which gives the government more control during emergencies to steer industrial production — to address the formula problem was one of many things they discussed, Spanberger said.

“I think the White House absolutely understands the seriousness and urgency of the matter,” Spanberger said. “But until more food hits the shelves, I’m not happy.”

Spanberger said she and Klain also discussed the fact that appealing to the law could provide a longer-term solution, but wouldn’t be the fastest way to get baby food back on the shelves.

“We’ve talked about the fact that the DPAs, while they may be very important to consider,” Spanberger said, “may not be as fast as just loading planes and ensuring that baby food can get from the Netherlands or other European partners.” here soon.”

“I think the White House absolutely understands the seriousness and urgency of the matter,” Spanberger added. “But until more food hits the shelves, I’m not happy.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that using the DPA to address the baby food shortage “remains under consideration.”

“So right now, of course, we’re considering that option, but our focus is mainly on two things: one is increasing the supply and the other making it readily available,” Psaki told reporters in the White House press conference. .

White House refuses to call the deficit a crisis or set a timeline

While they have expressed optimism about increased production levels, Biden officials have repeatedly refused to predict when store shelves will return to normal in recent days.

On Friday, Kate Bedingfield, the White House communications director, told CNN’s Kate Bolduan that she could not specify when the shortage will end.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell your audience I can give you a hard timeline that I can’t give you,” she told Bolduan when she was urged several times when parents can expect a return to more formulas on store shelves. . “We are outspoken about moving as quickly as possible. And we are relentlessly focused on that.”

Bedingfield also declined to call the deficit a crisis.

“Well, I don’t think it’s about a label. I think it’s about directly addressing the need that families have across the country,” she said. “Listen, I’m a mom. I have two young kids. I’m not very far from the days when I had to formulate my kids. I know…and the president knows how stressful this is for families across the world.” country .”

Shortages lead to congressional hearings

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday outlined the House’s plans next week to address the deficit.

In a letter to other members of the House, she wrote that the House “will introduce a suspension bill to grant emergency powers to the WIC program to address supply chain disruptions and recalls.” The House Appropriations Committee, she said, will provide “additional emergency funding to address the infant formula shortage immediately.”

At least three parliamentary committees have announced this week that they are looking into the issue.

A spokesman told CNN that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent letters Friday morning to four separate baby food companies requesting information about supply chain problems.

A spokesperson for the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced a hearing on baby food on May 25 and told CNN they plan to call representatives from the FDA and Abbott, a major baby food manufacturer, to testify.

And the credit committee will also hold two hearings related to the deficits, including one next week with Califf on the FDA’s 2023 budget request and infant formula oversight.

The committee chair, the Democratic Representative from Connecticut. Rosa DeLauro, told CNN she believes the FDA has “walked the cracks” in addressing issues with Abbott Nutrition, but she doesn’t blame the Biden administration for the shortfall.

“Abbott Nutrition has been a bad actor and produced a contaminated product,” she said. “They had a whistleblower report that went to the FDA in October. (The whistleblower) was not interviewed until December and then the recall was in February.”

Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Patty Murray, Pennsylvania Democratic Senate Bob Casey and 30 Senate Democrats sent a letter to the chairman of the Infant Nutrition Council of America “calling on infant formula manufacturers to do everything they can to help parents and families formula they need to feed their children.”

This story was updated Friday with additional developments.

Daniella Diaz, Sam Fossum, Jeremy Diamond, Nikki Carvajal, Ryan Nobles and Jasmine Wright of CNN contributed to this report.

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