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House passes bill to temporarily suspend tariffs on baby formula imports

Similac Alimentum Hypoallergenic Infant Formula, imported from Puerto Rico, is for sale at a Stew Leonard’s grocery store in Yonkers, New York, on Friday, June 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

The House passed a bill on Friday to temporarily suspend tariffs on baby formula imports, a move that some are hoping will help parents and families as they continue to struggle with formula shortages.

The legislation, titled the Formula Act, passed in a 421-2 vote, with Republican Reps. Rick Allen (Ga.) and Louie Gohmert (Texas) opposing the measure. All Democrats present supported the measure. Six Republicans and one Democrat did not vote.

The bill calls for suspending tariffs on imports of baby formula through the end of December by amending the Harmonized Tariff Schedule. The office of Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), the sponsor of the legislation, said the measure will decrease the cost of baby formula brought into the U.S.

Parents and families in the U.S. have been struggling with a shortage of baby formula for months. The closure of an Abbott Nutrition manufacturing plant was partially responsible for the scarcity. It shuttered operations after four infants who consumed its formula had a rare bacterial infection and were hospitalized.

The factory, however, resumed production earlier this month.

Frustrations with the formula shortages reached a boiling point in May, when the scarcity made national headlines and mobilized lawmakers to act.

While news coverage of the baby formula scarcity has largely quieted down, stores in the U.S. are still facing difficulties when it comes to stocking shelves with the product. According to data from market-research firm IRI cited by The Wall Street Journal, roughly 30 percent of powdered formula products were out of stock in stores in the U.S. during the week ending on July 3.

The House and Senate approved a bill in May to permanently relax restrictions on the kinds of baby formulas that can be bought by individuals as part of the federal low-income assistance program for women, infants and children (WIC). Individuals in the WIC program account for roughly half of the baby formula purchased in the U.S.

The House cleared the measure in a bipartisan vote, and the Senate approved the bill by unanimous consent. President Biden later signed it into law.

Additionally, the White House has announced eight Operation Fly Formula Missions, which are meant to help transport the product to the U.S.

The lower chamber also approved a bill in May that would provide the Food and Drug Administration with $28 million in emergency funding to bolster inspections of formula created at plants in different countries, and to protect against shortages down the road by making sure the agency is ready to deal with supply chain disruptions. The measure, however, has not moved in the Senate.

DelBene applauded the passage of the Formula Act in a statement, calling it a “straightforward solution.”

“No parent should struggle to find or afford food for their babies. Removing tariffs on foreign formula will help provide families a real discount and get product on shelves,” she said. “This is a straightforward solution that will help communities around the country deal with this ongoing crisis.”

Tags Rick Allen Suzan DelBene
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