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Scott sees WIC waivers as way to ease infant formula shortage

Formula Shortage
Michael Conroy
/
AP
Baby formula is displayed on the shelves of a grocery store with a sign limiting purchases in Indianapolis, Tuesday, May 10, 2022. Parents across the U.S. are scrambling to find baby formula because supply disruptions and a massive safety recall have swept many leading brands off store shelves.

Congressman Bobby Scott is a Democrat from Newport News who is chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. He's working with members of his committee to improve access to baby formula during the shortage crisis.

He says the idea is to ease requirements at the USDA for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. "When you get a WIC voucher, it requires you to buy a certain brand name. If that brand name isn't on the shelf but another name is, you can't use the voucher," Scott notes. "We're going to provide waivers so that whatever is on the shelf you can buy with the voucher."

Manufacturers usually bid against each other to provide discounts, and the manufacturer that provides the steepest discount gets access to the WIC program.

But Christine McDaniel at George Mason University's Mercatus Center says easing restrictions on the WIC program seems like a sensible approach during the crisis. "The WIC recipients being lower in come, they may be less able to travel long distances to stores that do have stock or maybe less able to pay higher prices for what is available. So any flexibility in the marketplace in terms of using those vouchers seems to make sense."

House Democrats hope to get the bill on the floor for a vote by Thursday.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.