After remarks at the White House Rose Garden, Biden responded when asked if the administration should respond faster to the nationwide baby formula shortage, telling CNN’s Jeremy Diamond, “If we were the best readers, I think we could.”
The president later said that solving the problem required the federal government to move “cautiously and swiftly,” adding that it was important to “make sure what we’re getting is, in fact, a first-class product.”
Manufacturers said they were producing at full capacity, but that was not enough to keep up with current demand. US grocery store shelves had less baby formula last week than the week before, according to a new report from Datasembly, a real-time data tracking agency that measures the amount of available product.
New management procedures
On Friday, the Biden administration announced several moves aimed at addressing the burden of the shortage.
Psaki appears to indicate that the site was created in recent days amid growing concerns.
“We wanted to make (the information) readily available and accessible to people. But before that period of time, we had not seen, clearly, what we had seen over the past few days,” Psaki added.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf also said the FDA is “working around the clock” to get more formula on shelves and will announce plans next week to streamline imports of formula. Although the commissioner did not say exactly when formula stock would return to normal, he wrote that the new and ongoing steps would “significantly help improve supply in the United States within weeks.”
Califf also said the Food and Drug Administration continues to work with existing manufacturers to increase production. He said on Twitter that the FDA data “suggests stable stock prices in retail stores, but we continue to work around the clock to increase availability.”
On Friday, a White House spokesperson said Abbott is committed to providing critical resilience to states through the end of August in response to a letter sent by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“This means that families in the[WIC or WIC Special Supplemental Nutrition Program or WIC]can purchase whatever product is available in the coming months, and states and retailers can plan ahead as they work to keep their stock off the shelves and, most importantly, provide certainty to families.”
Abbott said the company directs supply from a production facility in Ireland to serve WIC families. She also said she is working with the USDA that a Similac formula is not available.
Abbott is the exclusive supplier of infant formula to about half of children enrolled in the WIC program.
Rebates may not be useful, however, in situations where not all products are available or if a child cannot easily switch to another product.
Abbott said it is working to increase supply of the formula across the board by increasing production at other facilities. In addition, the company says it is offering more and more generous coupons so that consumers can purchase its products at a discount.
Invocation of the Defense Production Act under consideration
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klein told a member of Congress this week that the White House is considering “absolutely” and “strongly” President Joe Biden’s demand for the Defense Production Act to address the nation’s pressing infant formula shortage.
“I think the White House fully understands the gravity and urgency of the issue,” Spanberger said. “But until there is more food on the shelves, I am not satisfied.”
Spanberger said she and Klein also discussed the fact that invoking the law might provide a long-term solution, but it wouldn’t be the quickest way to get infant formula back on shelves.
“We’ve talked through the fact that the DPA, while it may be something really important to them, ‘may not be as fast as loading planes and making sure that baby food from the Netherlands or other European partners can get it here quickly,'” Spannberger said.
“I think the White House fully understands the gravity and urgency of the issue,” Spanberger added. “But until there is more food on the shelves, I am not satisfied.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the use of DPA to address home infant formula shortages is still “under study.”
“So right now of course we’re keeping that option under consideration, but our focus is primarily on two prongs: one is to increase supply, and the other is to make it more readily available,” Psaki told reporters at a White House briefing.
The White House refuses to describe the shortage as a crisis or set a timetable
Although they have expressed optimism about increased production levels, Biden officials have repeatedly refused in recent days to predict when store shelves will return to normal.
On Friday, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told CNN’s Kate Bolduan that she could not indicate when the shortage would end.
She told Bolduan when pressed a few times when parents expect to come back for more formula on store shelves. “We are open about moving as quickly as possible. We are relentlessly focused on this.”
Bedingfield also refused to describe the shortage as a crisis.
“Well, I don’t think it’s about a brand,” she said. “I think it’s about directly addressing the needs of families across the country.” “Listen, I’m a mom. I have two young kids. I’m not too far from my days of formula feeding my kids. I know… and the president knows how stressful this is for families across the country.”
Ignite the shortage of congressional hearings
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday outlined House plans next week to deal with the shortage.
In a letter to fellow House members, she wrote that the House “will introduce a suspension bill to grant emergency authority to the WIC program to address supply chain disruptions and recalls.” She said the House Appropriations Committee “will put on the floor additional emergency appropriations to address the infant formula shortage immediately.”
A CNN spokesperson said the House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent letters Friday morning to four separate infant formula companies requesting information about supply chain issues.
A spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced a hearing on infant formula on May 25 and told CNN that they plan to call representatives from the Food and Drug Administration and Abbott Corporation, a major infant formula maker, to testify.
The Appropriations Committee will also hold two hearings related to the shortage, including next week’s hearing with Califf on the US Food and Drug Administration’s 2023 budget request and infant formula supervision.
The committee chair, Democratic Representative from Connecticut Rosa DeLoro, told CNN she believes the Food and Drug Administration has been “slow” in addressing the problems with Abbott Nutrition, but she doesn’t blame the Biden administration for the shortfall.
“Abbott Nutrition was a bad actor, he produced a tainted product,” she said. “They had the whistleblower report that went to the Food and Drug Administration in October. They[whistleblowers]weren’t interviewed until December and then the summons happened in February.”
This story was updated with additional developments on Friday.
CNN’s Daniela Diaz, Sam Fossum, Jeremy Diamond, Nikki Carvajal, Ryan Nobles and Jasmine Wright contributed to this report.