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WIC enrollment increasing amid formula shortage, inflation

The ongoing baby formula crisis is causing distress for parents across the country, and more of them are turning to public assistance programs for help.

LUZERNE COUNTY, Pa. — It's a problem impacting mothers and infants all over our area and across the country; baby formula is in short supply, and it's hurting low-income families the most.

There are still plenty of bare shelves inside grocery stores as the supply crisis continues. 

Shannon Hayward, vice president of service delivery at Maternal and Family Health Services in Wilkes-Barre, said parents have been reaching out daily. The organization helps feed the most vulnerable, coordinating Women, Infant and Children programs in 17 counties.

"We're hearing about it every day," Hayward said. "It's something that all of our WIC Families who use infant formula are facing."

"We're the largest provider of WIC, both geographically and in the number of participants, and we have 8,000 infants that were impacted by the formula shortage," added Maria Montoro Edwards, President and CEO of MFHS.

Months of supply bottlenecks meant empty bottles and a growing need. 

"On top of the issues that we've had with the supply chain that were making it difficult to find formula," Hayward said. "The recall of the Abbott products and the shutdown of the plant in Sturgis exacerbated that greatly."

This presented yet another issue: WIC families were only eligible to purchase Abbott formula.

"We have been working closely with our state and federal partners to advocate for more flexibilities for WIC families, and they have come through with increasing the options that are available," Hayward said.

Now, WIC families can choose from a wide variety of formulas, lessening some of the burden. 

Abbott restarted production at its Sturgis, Michigan plant earlier this month and this week announced it's importing 1.1 million pounds of formula from facilities in Spain after receiving authorization from the FDA. While that could help stock shelves, the weight of inflation and shortages means more Pennsylvanians are seeking help. 

Maternal and Family Health Services has seen WIC participation increase by 3% since the beginning of the year, climbing to 44,000 participants.

"We are seeing increasing numbers in WIC, both people utilizing the benefits and people applying to be part of the program," Hayward said.

Maternal and Family Health Services said it's committed to helping families navigate this crisis.

For more information on eligibility and an application for WIC benefits, visit the Maternal and Family Health Services webpage.

Check out WNEP’s YouTube channel.  

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