Experts suggest using WIC government benefits to get baby formula amid a nationwide shortage — but these frustrated parents say that’s not a viable option

For two months, Kathryn Bauerle, 21, mother of 8-month-old Lori, has been struggling to find formula for babies.

But even before the withdrawal, there was a shortage of infant formulas across the country due to pandemic-related supply chain problems. The withdrawal worsened a difficult situation.

Relief could come, but parents like Bauerle probably won’t feel it for more than a month. Abbott announced Monday that he had signed a consent decree with the Food and Drug Administration detailing the steps needed to resume production at the company’s Sturgis, Michigan plant. Once the FDA confirms that Abbott has taken the initial steps described, Abbott expects to have the plant up and running in about two weeks, and the formula should hit store shelves in six to eight weeks.

“We’re such a small city, as soon as the formula was withdrawn and production stopped, we couldn’t find anything for two months,” Bauerle said.

At the same time, she received a letter responding to her application for enrollment in the government’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Children and Children (WIC) with a local office in Cleveland. He refused.

The WIC program offers participants vouchers or checks each month to help pay for nutritious food, including infant formula, for low-income mothers and children.

Bauerle requested WIC on the recommendation of her doctor, who suggested that WIC could help her access the infant formula. Amid the shortage, groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Child Nutrition Council and government agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services have recommended WIC as a potential source of formula, but this advice has sometimes result difficult to follow. .

WIC benefits can’t be used to buy formulas from online retailers like Amazon AMZN,
+ 0.19%,
and in many areas, WIC will only cover certain sizes of canned formula, so parents who do not find this specific size are unlucky. The program is only open to certain revenue levels and, most importantly, has been particularly affected by supply chain issues and Abbott’s withdrawal. “More than 1.2 million babies receive formula benefits through WIC, and Abbott is the sole provider of more than half of WIC agencies nationwide,” said Brian Dittmeier, senior policy director. national WIC Association.

WIC has federal funding and states and counties operate the program locally. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers WIC, did not respond to a request for comment.

“We are such a small town, as soon as the formula was withdrawn and production stopped, for two months we found nothing.”

– Kathryn Bauerle, 21, mother of 8-month-old Lori

Bauerle’s doctor suggested he should seek help from WIC to find the formula last November, so he asked for it. It took him a few months to find out that he had been denied and he did not receive an explanation as to why.

After investigating, she and her husband thought the refusal may have been related to her household income. Bauerle was pregnant with Lori when she filed the application, so her home could have counted as one of two people.

For most states, except Alaska and Hawaii, WIC program participants cannot earn more than 185% of the federal poverty level. For a two-person household, the 2021-2022 level would be $ 32,227 and $ 40,626 for a three-person household.

Bauerle is a stay-at-home mom and her husband works in pest control and takes home about $ 33,000 a year.

“I wish there wasn’t such a definite cut, I mean $ 30,000 a year just comes in so far,” Bauerle said. For families living “technically” on paychecks, there should be more support, he added.

Bauerle said the insurance formula has become both a group effort with friends caring for each other and an excursion that requires hours of driving.

The worst moments come when the uncertainty and fear of not finding anything, he said, “I was in bed with my daughter, hugging her to sleep at night, wondering if we could find a formula for her., Or worrying if it will go well. ”

And that fear grows: Bauerle is pregnant with her second child. He fears that if the shortage of baby formula continues, his situation will become even worse.

After Bauerle was rejected from WIC, she spoke with other people who were successful or were already at WIC, but other mothers advised her not to have the help program to access the infant formula, due to the national scarcity.

For now, Bauerle said he will have to pay for the infant formula out of his own pocket.

He said he felt it could take up to two months to approve a WIC application and, due to a delay in applications due to the increase in applications during the COVID-19 pandemic, s ‘is taking even longer.

Kathryn Bauerle, 21, is a stay-at-home mom based in Cleveland, Georgia. Being pregnant with their second child and having an 8-month-old daughter, she and her husband fear the impact of the infant formula shortage on her family.

Courtesy of Kathryn Bauerle

It’s a Catch-22 for parents who are already on WIC – some have reported that its baby formula benefits don’t help at all, because they didn’t find the formula in stores.

On various public Facebook FBs,
Organized groups for parents looking for infant formula, WIC parents have complained that, regardless of WIC, they pay out-of-pocket formula for their children, because they cannot make use of the benefits.

“I can’t use my WIC card, I’m paying cash for it and I don’t know what to do anymore,” said Kathleen Ariel Bonneville, 29, an early mother of a 5-month-old. Bonneville wanted to breastfeed her son Jake, but said that because she did not receive the help or instruction she needed from her hospital about breastfeeding, she used formula for her baby. (Her hospital in Hartford, Connecticut did not respond to a request for comment.)

Bonneville is finding it increasingly difficult to find a formula in her area: she is disabled and taking medication to help her concentrate. She is not driving, so she needs help finding formula. Recently, the hunt has become longer. It took almost a month to find a few cans Monday morning at a Walgreens WBA,
in Stafford, Connecticut.

“Nobody helps you. You call your child’s office and they can’t help you. Call WIC and they can’t help you, and even though the news says you call your doctor’s office, they don’t help you,” he said. Bonneville.

He added: “My son is my focus now and always will be.”

WIC programs in different states tell parents to use a mobile app to find store-approved programs that sell WIC-covered formulas. For example, New York State uses WIC2Go and Connecticut uses WICShopper.

In order for Bonneville to use your WIC card to find the formula, you need to check the approved WICShopper stores. The app usually suggests a Walmart WMT,
who has had nothing lately.

Kathleen Ariel Bonneville, 29, an early mother of 5-month-old son Jake, is struggling to get formula for babies even with the help of WIC.

Courtesy of Kathleen Ariel Bonneville

Bonneville once found a 12.4-ounce can, but couldn’t buy it with a WIC payment, because it wasn’t a size covered by WIC.

There are currently more than 20 baby formula products covered by its WIC benefits, most of which are larger in size, he said. Bonneville said the options have been expanded recently.

In some areas, WIC benefits only cover Abbott’s Similac formula. Ryan Folks, 34, a hairdresser and mother of an 8-month-old girl, is facing this problem. The benefits of its local WIC office in Detroit, Michigan, cover the Abbott formula for babies, all Similac: Similac Advance, Similac Sensitive and others. The program covers other brands such as Nutramigen or Enfamil, both made by Mead Johnson RBGPF,
but they are classified as “Special Formulas” that require medical documentation.

The Biden administration last Friday urged states to expand the types of formula products covered by WIC amid shortages. As Abbott has a contract with the USDA, the government department asked the company on Friday to extend the discounts until the end of August so that states and retailers can plan ahead and buy any available products to help with the current shortage. Abbott agreed.

Following the abbot’s recollection, the WIC office that Folks uses changed its authorized formula from powder to concentrate. Of the 24 products eligible for purchase with their WIC benefits, 16 were part of the withdrawal, according to their count.

Unused WIC benefits cannot be transferred to the next month, and while your daughter may be eating something now, she must embark on an “excursion” to find formula. When he spoke to MarketWatch on Monday, he was trying to find money to buy a few cans from someone else without WIC assistance.

“I didn’t like that they didn’t have security plans for us,” Folks said.

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