Low-income families desperate for formula foods struggle with government’s nutritional assistance program: ‘You call the doctor’s office for your son and they can’t help you’ – CNET

For two months, Kathryn Bauerle, 21, mother of Laurie, 8 months, has been struggling to find formula milk.

But even before the recall, there was a nationwide shortage of infant formula due to pandemic-related supply chain issues. The recall aggravated a difficult situation.

Relief may come, but parents like Bauerle probably won’t feel it for more than a month. Abbott announced Monday that it has signed a compliance statement with the Food and Drug Administration detailing the steps needed to resume production at the company’s Sturgis, Michigan facility. Once the FDA confirms that Abbott has taken the first steps outlined, Abbott expects the facility to be operational in approximately two weeks, with the formula hitting stores in six to eight weeks thereafter.

“We’re such a small town, once the formula was recalled and production shut down, we couldn’t find anything for two months,” Bauerle said.

Around the same time, she received a letter of reply to her application to join the government’s special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) with a local office in Cleveland. She was rejected.

Each month, the WIC program gives participants coupons or checks to pay for nutritious groceries, including infant formula, for low-income mothers and children.

Bauerle applied for WIC on the recommendation of her doctor, who suggested WIC could help her access the formula. Amid the shortage, groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Infant Nutrition Council of America, as well as government agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, have recommended WIC as a potential source of infant formula, but that advice has sometimes had difficult consequences. .

WIC benefits cannot be used to purchase formulas from online retailers such as Amazon AMZN.
and in some areas, WIC only covers certain sizes of canned food, so parents who can’t find that size are out of luck. The program is only open to certain income levels and, more importantly, it’s been particularly hard hit by supply chain issues and Abbott’s recall. “More than 1.2 million infants receive infant formula through WIC, and Abbott is the exclusive supplier to more than half of the WIC agencies nationwide,” said Brian Dittmeier, senior director of public policy at the NationalWIC Association.

The WIC is funded by the federal government, and the states and counties implement the program locally. The US Department of Agriculture, which administers the WIC, did not respond to a request for comment.

“We’re such a small town, once the formula was recalled and production stopped, we couldn’t find anything for two months.”

— Kathryn Bauerle, 21, mother of Laurie, 8 months

Bauerle’s doctor suggested she contact WIC for help finding a formula last November, so she applied. It was several months before she learned that she had been rejected and was given no explanation as to why.

After doing some research, she and her husband thought the rejection might be related to their household income. Bauerle was pregnant with Laurie when she applied, so their household may have counted as a two-person household.

In most states, with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii, participants in the WIC program 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 brings home about $33,000 a year.

“I wish there wasn’t such a set threshold, I mean, $30,000 a year doesn’t go that far,” Bauerle said. There should be more support for families who are “technically” living paycheck to paycheck, she added.

Bauerle said the belay formula has become both a group effort, with friends looking out for each other, and a field trip that requires hours of driving.

The worst times come when insecurity and the fear of not finding anything kick in, she says: “Laying in bed with my daughter, cuddling her to sleep at night, asking if we can find a formula for her, or worrying whether they ‘ will be fine.

And this fear is growing: Bauerle is pregnant with her second child. She fears that if the baby food shortage continues, her situation will become even more serious.

After being rejected by WIC, Bauerle spoke to others who had passed or were already WIC, but other mothers advised her not to rely on the utility to access formula due to the nationwide shortage.

Bauerle said she had to pay for the formula out of her own pocket for the time being.

She said she’s heard it can take up to two months for a WIC application to be approved, and it’s taking even longer due to a backlog of applications due to a surge in applications during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kathryn Bauerle, 21, is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Cleveland, Georgia. She is pregnant with her second child and has an 8 month old daughter. She and her husband fear the impact the lack of baby food will have on their family.

Courtesy of Kathryn Bauerle

There’s a catch for parents who are already on WIC: Some have reported that the benefits of the formula don’t help them at all because they can’t find the formula in stores.

On several public Facebook FBs,
Organized groups for parents seeking infant formula have complained that WIC parents are paying for their children’s infant formula out of their own pockets independently of WIC because they cannot take advantage of the benefits.

“I can’t use my WIC, I’m paying cash and I don’t know what to do,” said Kathleen Ariel, 29, a first-time mother of a 5-month-old from Willington, Connecticut. Ariel wanted to breastfeed her son, Jake, but said she used formula for her son because she didn’t get the breastfeeding help or instruction she needed from her hospital. (His hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, did not respond to a request for comment.)

Ariel is finding it increasingly difficult to find baby food in her area – she is disabled and takes medication to help her focus. She doesn’t drive a car so she needs help finding formula. But lately the hunt has gotten longer and longer. It took him almost a month to find a few cans at a Walgreens WBA on Monday morning.
in Stamford, Conn.

“Nobody helps you. You call the doctor’s office for your son and they can’t help you. You call WIC and they can’t help you, and even though the messages say to call your doctor’s office, they don’t help you,” Ariel said.

She added: “My child is my focus now and always will be.”

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

In order for Ariel to use her WIC card to find formula, she needs to check eligible stores on WICShopper. The app usually suggests a Walmart WMT,
who hasn’t had anything lately.

Kathleen Ariel, 29, first time mother to 5-month-old son Jake, is struggling to formulate herself with the help of WIC.

Courtesy of Kathleen Ariel

On one occasion, Ariel found a 2.4 ounce box but was unable to purchase it with a WIC payment as it was not a WIC covered size.

There are currently more than 20 infant formulas covered by the WIC benefits, most of which are larger, she said. Ariel said the options have recently expanded.

In some areas, the 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. Services from the local WIC office in Detroit, Michigan include Abbott baby food, all Similac – Similac Advance, Similac Sensitive and others. The program includes other brands such as Nutramigen or Enfamil, both manufactured by Mead Johnson RBGPF,
However, they are classified as “special formulas” that require medical documentation.

Last Friday, the Biden administration urged states to expand the types of formula products covered by the WIC amid the shortage. Because Abbott has a contract with the USDA, the government agency on Friday asked the company to extend the rebates through the end of August so that states and retailers can plan ahead and purchase all available products to meet the current shortage. Abbott agreed.

After Abbot’s recall, the WIC office used by Folks changed its approved formula from powder to concentrate. Of the 24 products that can be purchased with the WIC benefits, 16 were part of the recall, according to the balance sheet.

Unused WIC benefits cannot be carried over to the next month and although her daughter is able to eat now, she has to go on a “field trip” to find formula. Speaking to GameSpot on Monday, she was trying to raise the money to buy someone else a few cans without WIC’s help.

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

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