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Poor Black and Hispanic parents in Connecticut have less access to baby formula

Empty baby formula shelves at a grocery store in Massachusetts on Friday.
Joseph Prezioso
AFP via Getty Images
Empty baby formula shelves at a grocery store in Massachusetts on Friday.

Baby formula shortages across America have depleted stores' supply by 40%. The shortage, caused by a recall from major supplier Abbott, is disproportionately impacting low-income families and families of color across Connecticut.

WSHU’s Ebong Udoma spoke with CT Mirror’s Jenna Carlesso to discuss her article, “Baby formula shortage hits lower-income homes and families of color,” as part of the collaborative podcast Long Story Short.

WSHU: You say in Connecticut, low-income homes and families of color are hit harder by the baby formula shortage than white families. How come?

JC: Yeah, so advocates and medical providers have pointed out since this shortage began that while lots of parents are being affected by it, not everyone is affected equally. In Connecticut, 88% of white parents start off breastfeeding their newborns. For Black parents, that's 84%. And for Hispanic parents, it's 85%. And those disparities are even wider at the national level. At the national level, we see 85% of white parents initiating breastfeeding, while only 73% of Black parents do. That's according to CDC data.

WSHU: You also mentioned the fact that the shortage affects the WIC program that many families depend on, because Abbott Labs was a big supplier of the federal WIC program. Could you explain a little bit about why that is such a problem?

JC: Yes, parents who do rely on the federal WIC program — that's the special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — they face limits on, you know, the brands of formula that they might purchase, the types of formula and the stores where they can purchase those products.

WSHU: And what is being done to help in this situation?

JC: So right now there's a group of U.S. Senators, including Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, who have sent a letter to the CEO of Abbott Laboratories, encouraging him to offer relief to state WIC programs, to the people that those programs serve. That would include asking Abbott to extend rebates across all infant formulas, at least through the end of this year. We also are hearing advocates saying, you know, as formula is becoming more prevalent again, as states are getting it again, to make sure that it's not just getting to certain retailers. So if you live in a community where maybe there's not a full service grocery store, make sure it gets to those bodegas or other stores that supply that community.

WSHU: There was a federal bill that was passed, that was signed into law by President Biden and that sourced a lot of this product from outside the country. That's the stuff that's coming in now. Right?

JC: Yeah. So currently, there was a bill passed at the federal level, it's meant to help ease the burden on low-income parents by allowing the WIC program to source products from more foreign suppliers.

WSHU: So Jenna, there's a second federal bill. What's happening with that?

JC: So there is a second bill at the federal level that they're weighing, which would provide $28 million in aid to the FDA to address this formula shortage. But that bill right now, even though it's gotten through the House, is facing an uncertain future in the Senate.

WSHU: Now, Abbott says that it's planning to reopen this week. How soon would we be able to see relief for families?

JC: The plan is to have the plant open this week, but they have cautioned it could take another six to eight weeks to get more product back on shelves at retailers.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.