Emergency baby formula distribution
Katherine Gibson-Haynes helps distribute infant formula during a baby formula drive Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Houston. Parents seeking baby formula are running into bare supermarket and pharmacy shelves in part because of ongoing supply disruptions and a recent safety recall. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Legislative Democrats plan frequent reminders of GOP opposition, while President Biden organized relief flights and Gov. Evers acted to avoid price gouging.

It’s been more than two weeks since every Wisconsin Republican in the US House voted against an emergency bill to address the dire shortage of baby formula, and some state lawmakers aren’t letting people forget about it.

The crisis is worsening, according to a retail analytics company Datasembly: Last week, the average out-of-stock rate for infant formula nationwide surged to nearly 74%. 

“This crisis, which is truly a manufacturing sector failure, has impacted all parents of formula-fed infants, but it magnifies the disparities that have long existed,” Brian Dittmeier of the National WIC Association, told NPR. “Searching for formula has to an extent become a full-time job, and low-income families that are working two jobs already may not have the bandwidth to fully invest in the search.”

During an event in Milwaukee this week, state Assembly Reps. Robyn Vining and Deb Andraca and state Sens. LaTonya Johnson and Chris Larson blasted US Reps. Tom Tiffany, Bryan Steil, Mike Gallagher, Glenn Grothman, and Scott Fitzgerald for opposing a measure that would provide $28 million for the US Food and Drug Administration to hire more formula inspectors to improve production oversight and prevent fraudulent products from hitting store shelves.

The measure ultimately passed 231-192, with 12 Republicans joining 219 Democrats to pass the bill. 

Larson called out Tiffany,  “who opined on Twitter about how people can’t get ahold of baby formula. [But] when it came time to actually do something about it—not just politically posture—but to actually vote to fix the problem, he went along with the party. He put his party over the people, his party over Wisconsin, and voted ‘No.’”

Johnson—who said she was unable to adequately breastfeed her daughter nearly 25 years ago when she was born prematurely—recalled the anxiety of fearing for a child’s well-being.

“I still remember the panic, the fear, the frustration, the anger of not being able to feed my hungry child as she cried,” Johnson said. “That’s why I was so horrified to learn that every Wisconsin Republican in Congress voted against the emergency funding to produce and distribute baby formula across the country. You had parents, guardians, and family members searching with desperation for formula their children so desperately needed. To deny them this formula and to actively stand against solutions. Is immoral and an absolute failure on the parts of Wisconsin Republicans in Congress.”

Said Andraca, “As someone who was elected to public office and understands the oath I made to my constituents—and as a parent who knows how uncertain and stressful parenting is, even without the concerns of accessing baby formula—I cannot begin to fathom why Wisconsin Republicans in Congress would knowingly block a solution to this problem.”

Instead of working toward a fix, some Republicans, including Tiffany and Johnson, have tried to shift blame to the babies of immigrants—because formula is available at immigrant detention centers. Experts agree that one major driver of the shortage is the recall of several brands of formula and the subsequent closing of a leading manufacturer in Michigan after contamination was found to have led to the deaths of two babies. 

“Despite Republican opposition,” said Vining, “President Biden and Democrats have been working around the clock to address this shortage—passing legislation to provide emergency funding, invoking the Defense Production Act to increase manufacturing, and working with the US military to airlift in formula to communities most in need. And last week Gov. [Tony] Evers took action to prevent corporations from price-gouging formula prices by signing an executive order.”

This week, the White House launched a new website to keep Americans updated on the progress that’s happening to address the formula shortage.