White House chief of staff Ron Klain told a member of Congress this week that the White House is “absolutely” and “strongly” considering having President Joe Biden invoke the Defense Production Act to address the urgent baby formula shortage problem plaguing the country.
Virginia Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger told CNN Friday morning that she spoke with Klain twice in the last two days to discuss the shortage, saying that Klain told her the White House views using the law as potentially a “really important step.” The possibility of deploying the Defense Production Act – which allows the government more control during emergencies to direct industrial production – to address the formula issue was one of the many things they discussed, Spanberger said.
“I think the White House absolutely understands the severity and the urgency of the issue,” Spanberger said. “But until there’s more food on the shelves, I am not satisfied.”
Spanberger said that she and Klain also discussed the fact that invoking the law may provide a longer term solution, but would not be the quickest way to get baby formula back on shelves.
“We talked through the fact that the DPA, while potentially a really important thing for them to consider,” Spanberger said, “may not be as fast as just loading up planes and ensuring that baby food from the Netherlands or other European partners can get here quickly.”
“I think the White House absolutely understands the severity and the urgency of the issue,” Spanberger added. “But until there’s more food on the shelves, I am not satisfied.”
CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.
Efforts to address the shortage come as American stores have had a hard time keeping baby formula in stock for months due to a recall, inflation and supply chain problems. Manufacturers have said they are producing at full capacity, but it’s not enough to keep up with current demand.
US grocery store shelves had even less infant formula last week than they had the week before, according to a new report from Datasembly, a real-time data tracking agency that gauges how much product is available.
The White House on Thursday unveiled a series of limited steps to address the shortage, including importing more formula from overseas, urging states to allow government nutritional assistance recipients more flexibility in the varieties of infant formula they can buy and calling on the Federal Trade Commission and states attorneys general to crack down on price gouging by manufacturers.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters on Thursday that the Defense Production Act was one of the “range of options” being considered to address the crisis.
But Psaki could not answer what the administration’s guidance is for a concerned parent who cannot find formula to feed their baby.
Asked what a parent who doesn’t have access to formula or breast milk should do – whether there is a hotline they can call or if they should head to the hospital, for example – Psaki said: “I would say those are important public health questions. But what I can report on here, what I can convey to all of you is what we’re doing to address exactly that concern, which is taking every step we can to ensure there is supply on store shelves and we have increased the supply over the last four weeks.”
When pressed which government agency such questions would be better directed at, and again what a parent should do if they can’t find formula for their baby, Psaki, without naming an agency, said: “We certainly encourage any parent who has concerns about their child’s health or well-being to call their doctor or pediatrician.”
Psaki received numerous questions during the course of Thursday’s White House press briefing. She said the President will use “every tool we have,” and that the White House has been working on this issue for “weeks and months,” noting that production has increased since the February recall that exacerbated the current problem.
But Biden officials have declined to predict when store shelves will return to normal.
Two House committees also announced this week they are looking into the issue.
A spokesperson told CNN that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Friday morning sent letters to four separate companies that produce baby formula requesting information about the supply chain issues.
And a House Energy and Commerce Committee spokesperson announced a hearing on baby formula for May 25 and told CNN they plan to call representatives from the Food and Drug Administration and Abbott, a major baby formula producer, to testify.