About half of baby formula in the US is bought by those who use federal WIC benefits, which allow them to receive milk for free, but limit the type, size and brand they can choose.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday outlined the steps it has already taken to help low-income families, most notably giving up states to give WIC privileged parents a wider range of options – if they can find other names on the shelves and their babies can easily change formulas.
Approved in February, the exemptions allow families to purchase alternative container sizes, including those that exceed the standard maximums, and formula forms, as well as purchase alternative brands without a doctor’s note. The flexibility allows parents to get a liquid concentrate or ready-made formula and not just a powder.
A third type of exemption allows stores to accept formula exchanges purchased with WIC privileges.
The agency urged all states to take advantage of the flexibility, echoing the White House’s call on Thursday. Agriculture Minister Tom Vilsack sent a letter to the state health commissioners on Friday, reiterating the exceptions available.
Most states use all three exceptions, but Michigan uses two and Illinois uses none. Ten states and Puerto Rico are using one resignation.
The resignations are helping to alleviate the pressure on low-income families, said Geri Henchy, director of nutrition policy at the Food Research & Action Center, a defense team.
“Parents will have the option to choose the formula that is available, as opposed to being able to only get formula that is not on the shelf,” he said.
Abbott, meanwhile, is offering discounts until August on competitors’ products in states where WIC families are restricted to buying its formula. This will allow parents to get formula for free, regardless of the manufacturer. He also directs supply from a production unit in Ireland to serve WIC families.
Abbott and Gerber boost production
Abbott said Friday that it is working to increase formula supplies in all sectors, boosting production at other facilities. Since February, the company says, it has imported “millions of cans” of baby milk powder to the US from its facility in Cootehill, Ireland. He has also turned other production lines into a production facility in Columbus, Ohio, to make Similac more liquid-powered formula ready.
In addition, the company says that it offers more generous coupons, so that consumers can buy its products at a reduced price.
Gerber, meanwhile, said she had stepped up her efforts to produce more baby milk. He is a self-proclaimed “small player” in the market.
“We have significantly increased the amount of baby milk available to consumers by increasing production and speeding up the overall availability of products to retailers and the internet, as well as to hospitals for the most vulnerable,” Gerber told CNN on Friday.
CNN’s Brenda Goodman and Jen Christensen contributed to this story.