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Baby Formula Shortage Hits Low-Income, Rural Communities Hard

preparation of mixture baby feeding on wooden background top view
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Baby formula out-of-stock rates jumped from 30% to 40% over the course of April.

The baby-formula shortage is hitting Michigan families hard, especially those who live in rural areas, are low-income or have kids with digestive or other health issues.

Because of supply problems and a massive safety recall by the Michigan Abbott factory in February, the Food and Drug Administration says it is working with manufacturers to increase their output and trying to import more formula.

Data released this week revealed out-of-stock rates jumped to 40% at the end of April. Elyssa Schmier, vice president for government relations with Moms Rising, said she has been dealing with the shortage herself in Michigan.

"Anyone who has a child with medical issues or digestive issues, a lot of them use a particular type of formula that they've found works along with their doctors," said Schmier. "And switching formula is not only incredibly hard, but could be detrimental to their child's health."

She said some moms are driving hours and even crossing state lines to find specialized formula, or buying online for prices far higher than normal. She added that for folks living in rural areas, if their regular store is out of formula, they might not have another nearby option.

Schmier said folks who are struggling to afford formula should reach out to WIC - the Women, Infants and Children special supplemental nutrition program. But she added that the shortage is hitting WIC recipients particularly hard, because they are limited to purchasing certain brands.

"They've been able to get waivers and work in some flexibility for WIC recipients," said Schmier. "But these are people who are low-income. They don't have the ability to stockpile."

Schmier said while it may be tempting to water down formula to conserve it, try to make homemade formula or use cow's milk, it's really important to consult your pediatrician.

"I know from personal experience," said Schmier. "My son didn't switch very easily. He had some digestive issues when we originally switched him. And so your health-care provider can provide you with a lot of good advice of how to slowly do that, how to safely do that."

Moms Rising is circulating a petition calling on President Joe Biden to use the Defense Production Act to get formula on the shelves as soon as possible.

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