The House on Wednesday passed two bills aimed at addressing a nationwide shortage of infant formula.
The main piece of legislation, sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), would provide $28 million in emergency funding to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to beef up inspections of formula made at foreign plants and to guard against any future shortages by ensuring the agency is prepared for supply chain disruptions.
The shortages have left many parents desperate and lawmakers scrambling to find a solution to put formula back on store shelves.
DeLauro’s bill was passed 231-192 in a mainly party-line vote, with 12 Republicans going against the recommendation of party leadership and supporting the legislation. Another passed in a largely bipartisan vote.
But even as Democrats praised the vote, it was unclear how quickly the bills would help families and increase the available supply.
Senate Republicans also seemed wary of spending new money, so the ultimate fate of the Democrats’ biggest legislative effort to fix the formula shortage was uncertain.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) sent out a memo on Wednesday urging his members to vote “no” on the bill. He said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) proposed the legislation “in hopes of covering up the administration’s ineptitude by throwing additional money at the FDA with no plan to actually fix the problem, all while failing to hold the FDA accountable.”
GOP leaders also claimed that some of their proposals to address the scarcity were ignored by Democrats.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) on the House floor characterized the legislation as “reckless spending.”
“I rise in opposition tonight to H.R. 7790, the Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, a bill that just continues the majority’s reckless spending spree without actually fixing the infant formula crisis this administration caused,” he said.
The legislation also includes funding for supply chain monitoring and money to prevent fraudulent products from reaching U.S. stores.
Democrats argued the FDA does not have enough resources to adequately inspect foreign manufacturers and make sure they meet agency safety standards. The $28 million in emergency funding would make sure the agency can handle those inspections quickly.
“The FDA plays a critical role in ensuring formula provides the full nutritional needs of infants and that it is manufactured in the safest way possible. We must ensure that a lack of funding is not a barrier to getting safe formula to parents and babies. The bill before us does just that,” DeLauro said during debate on the House floor.
She said “an immediate need” exists to deliver infant formula to parents and families.
“In the wealthiest nation in the world, babies should not be at risk of going hungry. Parents should not have to play a guessing game and wonder if the food that they are giving their babies is safe,” DeLauro later added.
The other piece of legislation would permanently loosen the restrictions on the types of formula that can be purchased by people in the federal low-income assistance program for women, children and infants. That bill passed with bipartisan support in a 414-9 vote, with all nays coming from the GOP.
About half of all formula in the U.S. is purchased by people in the WIC program, which relies on exclusive contracts with formula manufacturers. Abbott Nutrition products serve 89 percent of all infants participating in WIC. The legislation would let states substitute other brands or types of formula in the event of a recall or other type of disruption.
The formula shortages have been months in the making but only recently caught the attention of many members of Congress. Now facing pressure from frustrated families, lawmakers are finding no easy answers.
House Republicans knocked Democrats for giving money to the FDA without guardrails and without forcing the agency to develop a concrete plan to solve the shortage. At least two House committees are investigating manufacturers and the FDA.
The scarcity is partly due to the closure of a manufacturing plant operated by Abbott Nutrition. The plant has been shut down since February, after four infants who consumed formula made there were hospitalized with a rare bacterial infection.
Abbott is one of the largest formula manufacturers in the country.