Baby food shortages in Chicago

Twins Amalia and Amelia Leon each weighed just under three pounds when they were born in February. They were premature and their mother said they spent 12 weeks in the newborn intensive care unit before being discharged.

During their hospital stay, the Enfamil twins were fed premature baby food. Now, due to a shortage of baby food across the country, their mother, Tania Huerta, said she spends hours a day looking for baby food.

She’ll check online at stores like Target to see if they have any in stock, but by the time she gets there, she said they often run out.

“The battle is constant all week. I remember going to eight different Walgreens one night to find a formula and I only found one can,” says Huerta, who lives on Chicago’s Southwest Side with her husband, a 6-year-old daughter, and the twins. . “I have two babies. They go through a can in about a day and a half.”

Supply chain issues and the closure of an Abbott Nutrition baby food facility in Sturgis, Michigan, contributed to a bottle-feeding shortage across the country. For months, parents have struggled to find baby food, but the problem has grown for those who depend on government support. Those under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Babies and Children – more commonly known as: WIC — also related to the administrative burden of the program, in addition to the supply shortages.

WIC provides food aid to pregnant women, new mothers and young children. According to the state’s Department of Human Services, there were 43,568 babies in Illinois on the WIC program as of March 2022.

If a family needs baby food, they are given a certain number of cans to buy each month. In Huerta’s case, she gets 10 cans of formula per baby, so a total of 20 cans per month.

But the supply chain shortage has forced stores to limit the number of cans each person can buy at one time. Huerta has to buy her 20 cans every month before her benefit ends, but she said there were months when she couldn’t find enough.

“I called the WIC office and asked if I can get an extension or can I turn them around because I can’t find one,” Huerta said. ‘And the answer was, ‘No.’ †

Instead, Huerta was forced to give up all the cans she couldn’t find and buy before her deadline.

But the problem doesn’t stop there. If she needs more bottle feeding than her allotted amount the following month, she will have to pay for the bottle out of her own pocket.

In addition, the stores Huerta frequents in Chicago can only buy two cans a day.

Huerta and her husband even tried another tactic, but it was refused.

“We tried to have him walk in, and then I walk in, but they won’t let you because they’re looking at the last numbers on the WIC card,” Huerta said. “I tell them I have two babies. I have to feed them and they say ‘no’ because there are more babies… there are more mothers.”

And the situation with the Abbott Nutrition baby food plant in Michigan continues to evolve.

Severe weather forced Abbott Nutrition to suspend production at a baby food plant in Michigan that had just restarted. The company said late Wednesday that production for its EleCare specialty formula has stopped, but it has enough supply to meet needs until more formula can be made.

Abbott said it must assess the damage and re-clean the plant after severe thunderstorms and heavy rains swept through southwestern Michigan Monday evening. The company did not specify how much damage the factory suffered.

Abbott had restarted the factory in Sturgis, Michigan, on June 4 after it had been closed since February due to contamination.

Politicians have tried to find solutions. In response to the baby food shortage in March, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced that the state would “step up programs to help families.”

In a statementPritzker’s office said the Illinois Department of Human Services will work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food & Nutrition Service to encourage retailers to set aside baby food for families under the WIC program.

On June 1, the state made an adjustment to their WIC program, allowing participants to temporarily purchase products that have not been previously authorized. the IDHS website also has a phone number that parents can call if they have trouble finding baby food.

The administration of President Joe Biden also invoked emergency federal regulations to prioritize U.S. manufacturing and is easing import regulations for foreign manufacturers to increase supply.

Despite the political intervention, Huerta feels no relief.

Many parents get stuck in slowly getting the formula where they can find it. Parents, including Huerta, have turned to social media groups, milk banks and food banks.

As Huerta looked for options, she felt the tension of everything adding up. She struggled to protect her family during a pandemic, adjusting to rising costs of things due to inflation and rising gas prices. She said she needed relief, but she has little hope that things will get better soon.

“There are a lot of kids currently dependent on this formula. I’m terrified of my kids because they’re premature, I just want to make sure I’m protecting them from everything,” Huerta said. can be resolved quickly as my babies will still need bottle feeding for the next six months.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Araceli Gómez-Aldana is a reporter and presenter at WBEZ. follow her @Araceli1010.

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