RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced Monday he would dedicate $45,000 to work with several nonprofits to help Richmond families on Virginia's WIC program who are impacted by the nationwide baby formula shortage.
"I want Richmond's infant caregivers to know that help is on the way," Stoney said. "We know that a formula shortage is an added stress to an already demanding job as a mother, as a father, or as a caregiver. So, I want you to know that the city of Richmond, this administration cares about you."
Stoney said he is directing the city's Office of Children and Families (OCF) to develop a "plan of action to support WIC families."
"We know that having adequate nutrition is crucial to infant health, including cognitive development. But we also know that this crisis impacts the mental health and stress level of caregivers," Elliot Haspel, a program officer with Robins Foundation, said.
The city said about 1,000 families in Richmond are enrolled in the Virginia WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program, which helps low-income families with children under five gain access to better nutrition and healthcare. The city is still trying to determine how many of those families have children in need of formula.
Officials said they were looking at a number of ways to use the money to help them.
"We're investigating what options might exist through a third-party partner, like Urban Baby Beginnings, is able to partner with the city to receive funds -- either in procuring formula or identifying ways to offer benefits to families directly," Eva Colen, with OCF, said.
"We do know that there is a financial issue here. So, because WIC is so restrictive -- the other part of the restrictions on WIC is you can only use it almost nowhere online," Haspel said. "One thing that we're really looking into is how can we provide potentially some direct financial support to these lower-income families so that they have a wide variety of options to go to vendors that don't currently accept WIC at all — to hopefully expand their options just to get them through."
Stoney also called on state agencies, including Gov. Glenn Youngkin, to take steps to help with the shortage.
Stoney asked Virginia's WIC program, which had already expanded which items recipients could buy because of the shortage, to expand the list of products even further and to make the expansion indefinite.
"Bottom line, no baby should suffer because of a monopoly. WIC families deserve the same options as affluent families and the Commonwealth of Virginia," said Stoney.
A spokesperson for the WIC program said they had already obtained all waivers available as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"The Virginia WIC Program continues to navigate through the formula shortage issues. With the Abbott formula recall, Virginia WIC was able to expand formula options available to our participants. The list of the most recently updated Virginia WIC-approved formulas and substitutions can be located on our webpage," said State WIC Director Paula N. Garrett, MS, RD in a statement. "The low inventory of formula is causing many of our participants to search at multiple authorized vendors to locate necessary products. In some instances, Virginia WIC is able to order formula through our formula distribution warehouse for participants; however many of those items are backordered and out of stock as well. Virginia WIC continues to work with our participants and their healthcare providers to help locate the necessary formulas.”
Stoney also called on Youngkin to declare a state of emergency in order for price gouging protections to take effect.
"I cannot think of a greater emergency than the inability for families to feed their babies," said Stoney. "And I hope Governor Youngkin, a parent himself, feels the exact same way."
A spokesperson for Gov. Youngkin responded to the Mayor's request:
"The Biden administration's FDA decision to shut down manufacturing without a viable back up plan has caused widespread chaos for parents across the country. VDH is closely monitoring supply of formula and answering questions from parents about alternatives, as well as tracking the market for any evidence of price gouging," said spokesperson Macaulay Porter. "Although not the cause of the shortage, the administration is prepared to take action if evidence of price gouging is found. Getting inventory in Virginia back to normal levels is a priority for the Governor and his team. He has and will continue to engage with our federal counterparts and industry leaders on their production capabilities."
A spokesperson for Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares also responded to a CBS 6 inquiry about price gouging concerns:
"The shortage of infant formula is alarming and unacceptable, and addressing it is of utmost importance to the Attorney General. That said, it is important to understand that price gouging is not the cause of the shortage," said Miyares' spokesperson Victoria LaCivita. "Nonetheless, Attorney General Miyares and his office are monitoring this situation and are always prepared to take action to protect Virginia consumers from violations of the law.”
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