White House ‘strongly’ considering using Defense Production Act to address infant formula shortage, lawmaker says

Virginia Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger told CNN Friday morning that she had spoken with Klain twice in the past two days to discuss the shortage, saying Klain had told her of the White House’s views. on using the law as potentially “a really big step.” The possibility of deploying the Defense Production Act – which allows the government to better control industrial production in the event of an emergency – to solve the formula problem was one of many things they discussed, said spanberger.

“I think the White House fully understands the seriousness and urgency of the issue,” Spanberger said. “But as long as there is no more food on the shelves, I am not satisfied.”

Spanberger said she and Klain also discussed that invoking the law might provide a longer-term solution, but wouldn’t be the fastest way to get infant formula back on the shelves.

“We discussed that DPA, while potentially a very important thing for them to consider,” Spanberger said, “may not be as fast as just loading planes and making sure baby food from the Netherlands or other European partners can get here quickly.”

“I think the White House fully understands the seriousness and urgency of the issue,” Spanberger added. “But as long as there is no more food on the shelves, I am not satisfied.”

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.

Efforts to address the shortage come as U.S. stores struggled to keep formula in stock for months due to a recall, inflation and supply chain issues. Manufacturers said they were producing at full capacity, but it’s not enough to meet current demand.

U.S. grocery store shelves had even less infant formula last week than the week before, according to a new report from Datasembly, a real-time data tracking agency that gauges how much product is available.

The White House refuses to call the shortage a crisis or set a timetable

The White House on Thursday unveiled a series of limited measures to address the shortage, including importing more infant formula from overseas, urging states to allow recipients of government nutritional assistance greater flexibility in the varieties of infant formula they can buy and calling on the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to crack down on price gouging by manufacturers.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters on Thursday that the Defense Production Act was one of the “options” being considered to deal with the crisis.

After Psaki struggled Thursday to respond to administration advice for a concerned parent who can’t find formula to feed her baby, she announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has launched a new website to help parents search for infant formula amid national supply shortages.

Individuals can visit HHS.gov/formulawhich Psaki says will provide “resources and places parents can go to get formula, including connections to businesses, food banks (and) healthcare providers.”
Administration officials noted that production has increased since the mass recall in February of the formula produced by Abbott Nutrition exacerbated the current problem.

On Friday, a White House spokesman said Abbott had pledged to provide critical flexibility to states through the end of August in response to a letter sent by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“That means families under (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC) can purchase whatever product is available in the coming months, and states and retailers can plan ahead. forward as they work to keep inventory on the shelves, and most importantly is to provide certainty for families,” the spokesperson said.

Despite expressing optimism about increased production levels, Biden officials have repeatedly declined in recent days to predict when store shelves will return to normal.

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

“I’m not going to sit here and tell your audience that I can give you a tough schedule that I can’t give you,” she told Bolduan when repeatedly pressed on when the parents can expect a return to more formulas on store shelves. . “We are upfront about acting as quickly as possible. And we are relentlessly focused on that.”

Bedingfield also declined to call the shortage a crisis.

“Well, I don’t think it’s about a label. I think it’s about directly addressing the needs of families across the country,” she said. “Listen, I’m a mom. I have two young children. I’m not far from the days when I fed my children formula. I know…and the president knows how bad it is. stressful for families across the country.”

Later Friday, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf tweeted that the FDA is “working around the clock” to get more formulas on the shelves and will announce plans next week to streamline imports of formulas.

While the commissioner didn’t say exactly when formula stock would return to normal, he wrote that the new steps underway “will help significantly improve supply in the United States within weeks.”

Califf also said the FDA continues to work with existing manufacturers to increase production. FDA data, he said, “indicates inventory levels at retail stores are stabilizing, but we continue to work around the clock to further increase availability.”

Shortages trigger congressional hearings

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday outlined the House’s plans for next week to deal with the shortage.

In a letter to fellow House members, she wrote that the House “will introduce into abeyance a bill granting emergency authority to the WIC program to deal with supply chain disruptions and recalls.” The House Appropriations Committee, she said, “will provide the prosecution with additional emergency funding to immediately address the shortage of infant formula.”

At least three House committees announced this week that they were looking into the matter.

A spokesperson told CNN that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent letters Friday morning to four separate companies that produce infant formula requesting information about supply chain issues.

A spokesperson for the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced an infant formula hearing on May 25 and told CNN they plan to call officials from the FDA and Abbott, a major infant formula producer. infants, to testify.

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

Committee chairwoman, Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro, told CNN she thinks the FDA “dragged its feet” in resolving issues with Abbott Nutrition, but doesn’t blame the administration. Biden for the shortage.

“Abbott Nutrition was a bad actor, made a tainted product,” she said. “They had a whistleblower report that was sent to the FDA in October. (Whistleblower) wasn’t interviewed until December, and then the recall happened in February.”

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

This story was updated with additional developments on Friday.

CNN’s Daniella Diaz, Jeremy Diamond, Ryan Nobles and Jasmine Wright contributed to this report.

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