PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The U.S. House and Senate approved a bill to ease the baby formula shortage for families on government assistance this week, and one nonprofit in Northeast Portland says the law would help ease the stress on low-income families.
Families who participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, account for about half of all formula bought in the U.S.
Usually, they are only allowed to get one brand of formula, but the new legislation — which is going to President Joe Biden to be signed into law — makes it possible for WIC participants to buy whatever brand is available.
Portland nonprofit Mother & Child Education Center provides infant resources to parents in need. Its executive director said low-income parents with babies are the most impacted by this formula crisis.
“You’re trying to do your best and gas is also $5 a gallon. You’ve got to drive to six stores to get formula — that is so hard,” said Executive Director Maura White of Mother & Child. “If you’re middle class American, you’re going to find that formula. But when you’re low income, you have other barriers to get formula. It is absolutely trying.”
The shortage started in February after a recall shut down a major manufacturing plant. It has since spiraled out of control.
“These are infants we’re talking about,” White said. “They don’t have any other kind of food.”
White said her supply of baby formula was decimated back after Abbott issued a recall and shut down its factory earlier this year.
“We had like 100 cans, we had to dump it all out and Abbott Industries would not refund it because we got it all donated to us,” she said.
While they had to trash gallons of formula, babies in Portland were in need.
“Now, we get calls everyday, people trying to find formula — they can’t find it on the shelves, they can’t find it here,” White said. “We were already serving a lot of people with formula, and now it’s gotten even worse.”
White said the government’s intervention came too late.
On Thursday, the Biden administration announced the Department of Defense is working to book a commercial aircraft to fly about 146 pallets of Nestle’s formula from Switzerland to Indiana.
The shipments will include up to 1.5 million 8-ounce bottles of three kinds of formulas.
But this shortage is still expected to at least last several weeks.
Recently, parents with extra formula in their pantries have donated their spare bottles to Mother & Child Education Center. While White is grateful, she said the need is still greater.
She expects her current supply will only last one more week.
The head of the FDA told lawmakers that the closed baby formula factory could be up and running again as soon as next week.
While the wait continues, White is asking anyone who has formula to spare to donate to centers or doctors office’s and help families get through the storm.