The Biden administration is considering using the Defense Production Act to spur the manufacturing of baby formula amid a nationwide shortage of the products, said White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday.
But when she was asked by a reporter about a timeline on if or when the act may be invoked, Psaki said she could not provide more information. No decision has been made yet on the law, which can compel private companies to produce a particular product.
“This is a really important question, but it’s hard for us to answer from here,” Psaki at the White House in her final press conference before she reportedly leaves the administration to join MSNBC.
The shortage of formula, which has lasted several weeks, was triggered after Abbott Laboratories, the maker of Similac, shut down its plant in Sturgis, Michigan, in the midst of a Food and Drug Administration investigation into the factory. The FDA said it was investigating a connection between the facility and four bacterial infections, including two deaths, among infants.
Psaki, meanwhile, characterized the shortages as regional, although she did not provide evidence for that claim.
“Sometimes the issue at play here is that bigger retailers have a more streamlined process for stocking the shelves than smaller retailers,” Psaki explained. “A lot of people go to stores in their community to go buy baby formula and it may just be that there is a bit of a delay in stocking those shelves.”
The federal government, she said, is moving to deal with the formula shortage. The White House will offer rebates to states to deal with stocking shelves.
“So we’re working to not just address… we’ve been working to address for months … but we’re working to ensure there is greater supply, consistent supply on the shelves for as long as possible,” Psaki said.
Earlier on Friday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) told NPR that she wants President Joe Biden to use the Defense Production Act to produce more baby formula, although she simultaneously blamed manufacturers for not producing enough.
At the same time, Biden is now facing criticism from Republicans after Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) said via social media on Thursday that she received photos that baby formula products are being sent to illegal immigrant facilities near the Texas–Mexico border. Some Republicans, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, said the photos are a sign that the administration is prioritizing illegal aliens over American citizens.
The House Oversight Committee confirmed on Friday that it will investigate the matter, sending letters to Abbott Laboratories, Nestle, and other firms.
“It is critical that your company take all possible steps to increase the supply of formula and prevent price gouging,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the head of the House Committee, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, wrote in their letters to the firms.