The search for rare sources for rural households at WIC is even worse

Canon Falls, Min. – Two months after giving birth, Jennifer Maji noticed a change in her baby’s feeding routine that scared her: almost every hour she started drinking more formula.

Increased appetite is normal for growing children, including Maggie’s daughter Aubrey. But in the absence of national sources, the 25-year-old Maggie had only one container left, which was enough to last three days.

“We’re flying through the formula,” Maji said as the deficit worsened in May. “I’m afraid that soon, if we don’t stock up, we won’t get it for him.”

Finding more will not be a straightforward task.

Over the past few months, many parents have experienced similar strains when they went to look for formulas. But she felt an additional pressure because she relied on a special supplementary nutrition support program for women, infants and children, known as WIC – a federally funded initiative to help low-income women buy food, including infant formula.

Her daughter was born in March, long after epidemic-related supply chain problems began to affect the availability of formulas, and baby food maker Abbott Nutrition stopped production at her Michigan factory and withdrew its Similac, Similac Elementum and Elecare powder formulas. , More disrupted supplies. In May, FDA chief Dr. Robert Caliph told senators he hoped the deficit would be resolved by the end of July. Until June, the company was still importing formulas to boost supply.

For Maji and other parents who live close to the state border, especially those in rural communities with limited and remote shopping options, WIC’s limitations further exacerbate the ongoing formula deficit.

A resident of Bay City, Wisconsin, Maggie must shop at a store that is approved by his state to receive WIC benefits. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, WIC recipients cannot use their benefits on state lines, unlike those who receive money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, another aid for low-income families.

Bay City is a village of about 400 people on the west end of Wisconsin, across the Mississippi River from Red Wing, Minnesota, with a population of about 16,500. There is no WIC-approved grocery store in Bay City. The Red Wing – less than 10 miles west – has three WIC-approved stores, but Maggie can’t use its Wisconsin facilities in any of them.

Instead, he drove about 50 miles to a WIC-approved Walmart supercenter in Menomony, Wisconsin, in search of the necessary hypoallergenic formula for his daughter.

While the lack of sources is not only affecting WIC families, it is “the biggest inequality that low-income families have faced over the years,” said Brian Ditmeyer, senior director of public policy at the National WIC Association, a nonprofit advocacy organization that represents WIC programs. .

These inequalities include low-income families more likely to live in the food desert, or areas without access to affordable healthy food, which limits their options for WIC-approved stores, he said.

Typically, WIC recipients have a specific formula that they can purchase with their benefits The program is called a “food package”. Following the withdrawal of Abbott Nutrition, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services issued a list of replacements for families whose designated formula was withdrawn.

Nutramigen, the formula used to soothe the sensitivity of her daughter’s milk, has not been withdrawn, but has not made it easy to find because the shortage has started to shake the country for other brands. Every time Maggie went to Menomoni for Nutramizen, she was making a “wild guess” that she might find something.

He didn’t.

In May, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services released tips for navigating the lack of families. Department officials told them to check out small grocery stores and drug stores instead of big stores and search the store’s websites before going in person. Yet some small stores do not accept WICs, and for women who have to travel an hour or more to check a shelf, what is available online may not reflect reality once they arrive. Like most states, Wisconsin does not allow WIC families to shop online with their facilities.

“Sometimes it’s a hurdle because of transportation costs,” said Britney Mora, WIC director of Pierce County, where Maggie lives, as she reflects the amount of families traveling in search of clues – especially a national average increase of around $ 5 per gallon due to gas prices.

If Maggie drives through her county to check out each of the four WIC-approved stores for her daughter’s formula, she will travel about 65 miles round the trip and risk returning home empty-handed anyway. Pierce County has no public transportation.

Mora staff encourage parents to call the store before the long trip, if retailers can tell them what stock they have. Staffers can also give tips to families who have heard where formulas can be found and change family meal packages to include in-store formulas.

Since Abbott’s withdrawal and the plant’s closure, Mora has allowed families to call his personal cellphone in case of an emergency while his office is closed.

“My biggest fear is that, over the weekend, a family won’t be able to get a formula available in the store,” he said.

A similar challenge has emerged for women receiving WIC in Minnesota. Kate Franken, the state’s WIC director, says families who come to help with her program sometimes don’t have a car, “so they don’t have many options like driving and checking out different stores.”

Although Minnesota, like Wisconsin, now offers WIC recipients imported formulas to expand their options, additions do not help all families equally, Franken said.

The Kendamill formula from the United Kingdom and the Aussie Bobs from Australia fall into the category of standard milk-based formulas, he said. “It’s good, and that’s what most kids use, but it’s a category we’re seeing the best recovery in supply in general.”

He said the standard milk-based formula import strategy does not address the lack of formula supply for children with milk intolerance or other digestive problems.

A photo shows Geralyn Laurie holding her granddaughter Aubrey.
Geralyn Lori holds her granddaughter Abre. Laurie made an appeal on social media so that the hypoallergenic baby formula for the baby could be crowdsourced.(Christina St. Louis / KHN)

They are children like Magir’s daughter.

When Maji realized that she could not immediately rely on her WIC facility to access the hypoallergenic formula, she turned to the family for help.

On May 23, Maggie’s soon-to-be mother-in-law, Geralyn Laurie, posted on Facebook: “Friends everywhere, my granddaughter, Aubrey Elizabeth, needs her specific formula. Babies need Nutramizine in their Enfamil. It could also be the house brand of this formula, which [are Tippy Toes and Well Beginnings]. If you find it, please buy it and I will gladly Venmo for this product and shipping. “

Within a few weeks, the hypoallergenic formula reached the end of the farmland-bound gravel road leading to Lorry’s home in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, about 30 miles west of 26 Can Bay City. Some by mail, others by plane and train visitors.

Lori did not expect such a response.

“Everyone, I think, wants to help, and a lot of people were just like, ‘I’m in it,'” he said.

By the time her granddaughter was 3 months old, Laurie had spent more than 5 455 on the formula.

Maji has not yet been able to use her WIC facilities to feed her daughter.

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