Why Utah’s congressmen voted against emergency funding to address the baby formula shortage

The Republican congressmen did support a bill that would allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to adjust its regulations in an emergency.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) A limited supplies sign is displayed on the baby formula shelf at a grocery store Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Salt Lake City. Parents across much of the U.S. are scrambling to find baby formula after a combination of supply disruptions and safety recalls have swept many of the leading brands off store shelves. On Wednesday, May 18, Utah's four congressmen voted against $28 million in emergency funding to address the national baby formula shortage.

To address the ongoing baby formula shortage across the country, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $28 million supplemental relief package on Wednesday. The emergency money would be made available to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to increase its regulatory capacity, spurring the production of FDA-approved formulas.

While the issue split lawmakers primarily along party lines, the Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, or H.R. 7790, ultimately passed 231-192 in the House. Among the dissenters were all four of Utah’s four Republican congressmen.

While House Democrats lauded the measure as an immediate and safe way to ameliorate shortages, Republicans remained largely unconvinced of the bill’s effectiveness.

Rep. Chris Stewart criticized the bill on Wednesday, tweeting concerns that the legislation doesn’t require the FDA to develop a plan, account for surplus stocks or “leverage existing transportation capabilities.” He also took to social media to reiterate his support for his and Sen. Mike Lee’s proposed Fixing Our Regulatory Mayhem Upsetting Little Americans Act.

According to Lee, the FORMULA Act calls for a six-month waiver on both infant-formula tariffs and certain FDA regulations. The Republican said his bill would also allow recipients of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — or WIC — to purchase imported and approved formula for six months.

“American babies are going hungry and the federal government is standing in the way,” Lee tweeted on Monday. “My FORMULA Act will give these families relief during this unprecedented shortage.”

Rep. John Curtis also explained his reasoning for opposing the bill in a tweet, saying that more money wouldn’t help the FDA combat the formula shortage.

“Just two months ago, the FDA received a $102 million budget increase, including $11 million specifically for maternal and infant health and nutrition,” the Utahn said on Friday. He followed it up with another tweet, reading, “They are sitting on a surplus of funds, and throwing money at a federal agency won’t fix a supply chain problem in large part created by the FDA itself.”

Along with his three Utah colleagues, Rep. Burgess Owens opposed H.R. 7790 in favor of the Access to Baby Formula Act of 2022. That bill has now passed both the House and Senate and would give the U.S. Department of Agriculture authority “to waive or modify any WIC qualified administrative requirement during emergencies, disasters, and supply chain disruptions.”

“Unlike Speaker Pelosi’s Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, the Access to Baby Formula Act is a real solution that will strengthen this vital supply chain, keep shelves stocked, and prevent future shortages,” Owens said in a statement.

Rep. Blake Moore agreed with his counterparts, and his office released a comment calling H.R. 7790 “ineffective.” The statement also notes the FDA’s recent budget increase and says, “More bureaucracy is not the solution; bureaucracy around imports, labeling, and state formula contracts is in fact a key cause of the shortage.”

While the Senate has yet to vote on the Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney sent a letter on May 10 to the commissioner of the FDA and the Secretary of Agriculture expressing his concerns over how the shortage is being handled.

“The responsibility falls on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to protect infant health by ensuring they have access to safe formula, and when crises arise, to initiate contingency plans to mitigate shortages that risk the lives of infants across the nation,” he wrote.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden used the Defense Production Act to, the administration said, increase the speed of formula production in the United States and elevate supply chain issues.

The countrywide formula shortage is largely a result of supply chain issues that were exacerbated in February when Abbott Nutrition shut down its Michigan facility due to reports of deadly contamination.