USDA Offers Nationwide Waiver for Infant Formula

The agency is leveraging new authority from the recently passed Access to Baby Formula Act.

Shelves typically stocked with baby formula sit mostly empty at a store in San Antonio, May 10, 2022.
Shelves typically stocked with baby formula sit mostly empty at a store in San Antonio, May 10, 2022.
AP Photo/Eric Gay, File

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is offering nationwide waivers to increase access to infant formula for families in need as states receive and distribute imported infant formula made available by the Biden-Harris Administration’s Operation Fly Formula.

USDA is leveraging new authority from the recently passed Access to Baby Formula Act to offer this flexibility.

“USDA is committed to providing our WIC families with nutritious foods, and while we continue working with our many partners to bring the infant formula shortages to a speedy conclusion, we’re also going to keep looking for ways to help families here and now,” said Stacy Dean, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services. “We’re maximizing flexibility, encouraging action, and providing ongoing support so we can all overcome this obstacle together.”

The action builds on existing flexibilities to provide widest access to available infant formula for WIC families. Within days of the recall, USDA offered WIC state agencies waivers to maximize formula options for WIC participants and ensure they could exchange or return any recalled formula. To date, USDA has approved well over 250 state waiver requests.

In addition, Food and Nutrition Service recently encouraged state agencies to work with their infant formula manufacturers to identify and implement temporary flexibility in their contracts to allow WIC participants to purchase alternate sizes, forms, or brands of infant formula during the ongoing shortage. North Carolina and its formula manufacturer, Nestle Gerber, are the first to have put this into action by agreeing to a contract modification that expands access to formula for WIC participants in the state.

“When formula supply began to tighten, we looked at all avenues to ensure safe and nutritious options for North Carolina babies and families,” said North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. “We immediately began working with our federal partners and with our contracted WIC manufacturer, Nestle Gerber, to give families in the WIC program the flexibility to choose different sizes, types and brands of formula during the shortage. We negotiated and implemented these changes as quickly as possible to relieve some of the stress that WIC-participating families felt.”

Food and Nutrition Service is encouraged by the action taken by North Carolina. “We are grateful for the leadership and teamwork of North Carolina and Nestle Gerber to increase formula access for WIC families in their state,” said Dean. The agency recently shared best practices with WIC state agencies to help them establish contract flexibilities that will help WIC participants access the formula they need.

USDA continues to work closely with HHS and FDA and the administration to support WIC families through this challenging time and to bring to a swift end to the shortage. Recent USDA actions include:

  • Coordinating cross-government to rapidly transport safe specialty formulas into the country for babies with special medical needs through Operation Fly Formula. More shipments, including regular formula, are on the way in the coming days.
  • Calling on states to take advantage of all available WIC flexibilities that could help those they serve. Since May 13, when USDA wrote to state health commissioners on this issue, more than 50 new waivers have been requested and approved, with all 50 states now offering at least one flexibility to help WIC families get the formula they need.
  • Engaging directly with WIC stakeholders including holding multiple listening sessions to better understand current needs and concerns.
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