Biden rejects the idea that his administration should have acted sooner on the shortage of formula milk

Following remarks at the White House Rose Garden, Biden pushed back when asked if the administration should have responded more quickly to formula shortages across the country, telling CNN’s Jeremy Diamond, “If we had been better mind readers, I suppose we could have.”

The president later said solving the problem required the federal government to “act with caution and speed,” adding that it was important to “ensure that what we’re getting is, in fact, top-notch product. “.

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.

New administrative actions

The Biden administration on Friday announced several measures aimed at addressing the burden of the shortage.

After White House press secretary Jen Psaki struggled Thursday to respond to the administration’s advice for a worried parent who can’t find formula to feed her baby, she announced Friday that the US Department of Health and Human Services had launched a new website to help parents. in search of infant formula in the context of a national supply shortage. Individuals can visit HHS.gov/formula, which Psaki says will provide “resources and places parents can go to get formula, including contact with businesses, food banks (and) providers.” health care”.

PSAKI appeared to suggest that the website was created in recent days amid growing concerns.

“We wanted to make (the information) easily available and accessible to people. But before that time we hadn’t seen, obviously, what we’ve seen in the last few days,” Psaki added.

US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf also said 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 on Twitter, “indicates that inventory levels at retail stores are stabilizing, but we continue to work around the clock to further increase availability.”

The moves come after 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 grant recipients of government nutritional assistance. more 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 from manufacturers.
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.

Abbott said the company was leading supply from a production facility in Ireland to serve WIC families. He also said he was working with the US Department of Agricitsir formula, Similac, is not available.

Abbott is the exclusive formula provider for approximately half of infants enrolled in WIC.

However, discounts may not be helpful in situations where all products are out of stock or a baby cannot easily switch to another product.

Abbott said it is working to increase formula supply at all levels by increasing production at other facilities. Additionally, the company claims to offer increasingly generous coupons so consumers can buy its products at a discount.

Invoke the Defense Production Act under consideration

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told a member of Congress this week that the White House is “absolutely” and “strongly” considering President Joe Biden invoking the Defense Production Act to address the issue. emergency shortage of infant formula plaguing the country.

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.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that using DPA to address the nation’s infant formula shortage remains “under review.”

“So at the moment, of course, we are keeping this option under consideration, but we are mainly focusing on two aspects: one increases the supply and the other makes it easily available,” Psaki told reporters. during the White House press briefing.

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

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 too far from the days of feeding my children formula. I know…and the president knows how bad it is. stressful for families across the country.”

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 Senator Bob Casey and 30 Senate Democrats sent a letter to the chairman of the Infant Nutrition Council of America “calling infant formula manufacturers to do everything possible to get parents and families the formula they need to feed their children.”

This story was updated with additional developments on Friday.

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

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