The Infant Formula Shortage: Actions and Analysis
When the infant formula shortage recently hit a crisis point, reports from around the state were chilling.
“We definitely are in a mess in Emanuel County,” an Early Head Start director said. “And it isn’t just one or two types of formula. It is every formula that has a shortage. Our Walmart told us yesterday they are not getting another shipment in for a while and there is nothing on the shelves.”
“I have several mommies who are struggling to find this formula,” lamented a Madison County EHS director. “We have been all over trying to find some and help ease their worry!”
Caregivers everywhere found themselves scrambling to feed their babies, but some of the hardest hit were those who rely on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC, which serves over 140,000 children under age five in Georgia. Even if these caregivers could find the time and resources to chase down formula, they were sometimes thwarted by restrictions related to size, quantity, or type.
GEEARS: Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students and our partners, including the Georgia Head Start Collaboration Office and the Georgia Department of Public Health–which houses Georgia’s WIC program–began collecting stories to better understand the impact of the formula shortage across the state.
In response, Georgia’s WIC program changed some of its rules, such as allowing caregivers to purchase a wider variety of formula brands and sizes, without the formerly required doctor’s note. Additionally, WIC beneficiaries are now issued multiple vouchers for single cans of formula, where before they were often required to purchase in bulk. WIC also instructed county health departments to donate returned formula that was safe to consume. DPH also asked formula manufacturers to prioritize Georgia’s rural counties most affected by the shortage.
These wins have been accompanied by other mitigation measures on a national level, including the invocation of the Defense Production Act and emergency formula shipments from Europe.
Now, let’s acknowledge that this shortage has been a wakeup call. While we are hopeful that the measures in place will begin to ease the current emergency, this formula shortage reminds us that we need sustained business and policy changes to avoid yet another crisis for children with young families.
Our precarious formula situation isn’t the only crack in the wall protecting families with young children from calamity. Other needs continue to go unaddressed. We’re still waiting for Paid Family and Medical Leave, for instance. For COVID-19 policies tailored to families with children under five. For sustained investment in affordable, accessible child care.
This list illuminates a truth: Families with young children aren’t being centered by lawmakers, by business leaders, or really, by all of society. We must continue to advocate for their acknowledgment and inclusion. Next month in the Saporta Report, we’ll present more research that supports this. Stay tuned.