The Senate approved a bill Thursday aimed at easing the baby formula shortage for families participating in a government assistance program that accounts for about half of all formula purchased in the US.
The House passed the bill the day before, so it now goes to Joe Biden to be signed into law.
Participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as Wic, get vouchers that are redeemed for specific foods to supplement their diets. The vouchers usually can only be used to purchase one brand of infant formula, which encourages the manufacturer to offer big discounts to secure a state’s business.
The bill makes it possible in extenuating circumstances for the Department of Agriculture to waive certain requirements so that Wic participants can purchase whatever brand is available.
“Now, millions of parents will have an easier time finding the baby formula that they need,” said Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer after the bill was passed.
Lawmakers are also considering boosting staffing at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with a $28m emergency spending bill. That legislation also passed the House this week, but faces uncertain prospects in the Senate.
Baby formula supplies in the US have been severely curtailed in recent weeks after a February recall by Abbott exacerbated supply chain disruptions among formula makers, leaving fewer options on store shelves and anxious parents struggling to find nutrition for their children.
Although baby formula has already been affected by pandemic-related supply chain problems, the nationwide shortage has worsened with Abbott’s recall, which stemmed from reported illnesses and deaths among infants.
In March, the FDA released a warning to consumers, urging them to be aware of certain products branded Similac, Alimentum and EleCare that have been recalled.
The FDA launched an investigation after complaints emerged of bacterial infections in four infants who consumed powdered infant formula produced in Abbott Nutrition’s facility in Michigan.
According to the reports, all four infants were hospitalized and the bacterial infection may have contributed to the deaths of two of them.
The head of the FDA told lawmakers Thursday that the factory could be up and running as soon as next week.