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Kansas WIC agencies work to accommodate families amidst baby formula shortage

FILE - Formula Shortage
FILE - Formula Shortage(Annette Giachino)
Published: May. 11, 2022 at 3:55 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - With the ongoing shortage of baby formula plaguing Kansas families, the state’s WIC program has adopted new regulations to help accommodate women and families.

Matt Lara, Communications Director for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment told 13 NEWS that typically, federal regulations for the WIC program bar retailers from allowing exchanges for authorized supplemental foods purchased through WIC benefits. The only case in which exchanges are allowed is if the new product is an identical authorized by the program of the exact same brand and size.

However, Lara said the Kansas WIC program obtained a waiver for the exchange requirement in order to respond to the shortage due to the voluntary recall of Abbott products and ongoing supply shortages caused by COVID-19 supply chain disruptions.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children - or WIC - allows specific brands of approved nutritional foods to be purchased by pregnant women, postpartum women, and families of children up to the age of 5 who may be at nutritional risk.

Locally, the Shawnee County Health Department said WIC staff have approved alternative formulas for mothers to use. It said various sizes and brands of formula previously not approved under the program have been authorized for purchase in the Sunflower State.

Staff noted the WIC shift is temporary but has helped immensely.

Lara said the move by WIC staff in Shawnee Co. has echoed around the state as other state and local WIC staff members work to allow additional products, sizes, formats, and more to the WIC computer system which interacts with retailers’ cash register systems to allow families to buy appropriate substitutions.

The Health Department also noted that formulas for unique nutritional concerns in the past have been available to purchase and order through the pharmacies of some WIC vendors, however, with ongoing supply concerns, this has also been affected.

“We have always had the option to direct ship formula from the state if unavailability has occurred through various Vendors, so this Direct Ship process has increased in frequency for some clients,” said Craig Barnes, Division Manager of Community Health Outreach and Planning at the Shawnee Co. Health Department. “The staff who have assisted with this have been amazing in trying to fulfill these unique needs for our clients.”

Overall, SCHD said Shawnee Co. WIC staff are aware of options that currently exist for families and have diligently worked to accommodate as many concerns related to the ongoing shortage as possible on a case-by-case basis.

“We have even seen breastfeeding rates slowly increase since the formula recall as well, which is a positive to pull out of the current situation,” Barnes noted.

Lara indicated that Kansas manufacturers have ramped up production to meet demand and retailers have ordered supplies to stock shelves. Meanwhile, he said WIC staff have worked closely with retailers and pediatricians to help families get the needed formula.

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