The Senate on Thursday approved a bill by unanimous consent intended to improve access to baby formula as the US contends with a nationwide shortage that has sparked an outcry and put pressure on lawmakers to act.
The bill, called the Access to Baby Formula Act, was approved by the House on Wednesday and will now go to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.
The measure is aimed at ensuring that families in need can continue to buy baby formula with WIC benefits during a public health emergency or supply chain issues such as a product recall. WIC refers to the federal assistance program known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
“The Senate has just passed legislation to help ease the terrible nightmare parents are facing trying to find baby formula for their kids,” said Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in remarks on the Senate floor. “It’s rare that we have unanimity in the Senate on important measures, and I wish we had more. But this is one of these important issues and I’m glad we’re acting with one voice.”
The measure would authorize the Agriculture Department to waive certain requirements related to the benefits program, according to a fact sheet from the House Education and Labor Committee.
“The step we’re taking today is going to add flexibility and relief to WIC beneficiaries and almost half of all baby formula consumed in the US is by WIC beneficiaries,” Schumer added. “Now, millions of parents will have an easier time finding the baby formula they need.”
The House also passed another bill on Wednesday to help to address the baby formula shortage, but the fate of that legislation is more uncertain in the Senate. The legislation faced stiff Republican opposition in the House, passing the chamber by a vote of 231 to 192. That bill would provide $28 million in emergency funding for the US Food and Drug Administration in an effort to help alleviate the current shortfall and head off future shortages.
Senate GOP Whip John Thune of South Dakota acknowledged earlier on Thursday that key senators in his party have not “looked that closely” at the $28 million bill yet. But he and other Republicans have said already they don’t think more funding is needed and that the Biden administration has the tools it needs to resolve the problem.
The emergency funding would be used to increase the number of FDA inspection staff, provide resources for personnel working on formula issues, help the agency stop fraudulent baby formula from entering the US marketplace, and improve data collection on the formula market, according to a release from the House Appropriations Committee.