Twin Cities WIC programs work to find formula for families

Families across the Twin Cities continue to struggle to find baby formula. Local WIC programs have seen an increase in calls from participants seeking help locating supply.

“They often call in, or text us, that they haven’t been able to find any formula,” said Bloomington WIC Clinic Supervisor Marianne Nelson, who’s started giving out her cell phone number to families. “Asking them to text me a picture of any formula they do see on the shelf and then we’ll try to make it so their card is allowing them to purchase that.”

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a federal grant program that operates through local agencies to provide families benefits that can be used towards nutritious foods, including baby formula. It aims to improve access to healthy options for low-income women, infants and children up to the age of five.

The program traditionally limited participants to certain types of formula but those options have now been expanded in response to the shortage.

According to Bloomington Public Health, nearly half of the infants served by their WIC program relied completely on formula as of April. Another 40% are having nutritional needs met through a mix of breastfeeding and formula.

“Our clients are low income and have various stressors on their lives,” said Nelson. “They don’t have four or five dollars a gallon for gas to go to several different stores, or have unreliable transportation. A lot of barriers that make it even more difficult for them to find the formula.”

Nelson welcomes President Biden’s decision to invoke the Defense Production Act to improve formula supply.

“Anything to cut the red tape and make it a little more streamlined will help,” she said.  “Our hands are tied. We can provide the benefits to the participants but there’s no way for me to make it happen. We can sometimes order it directly from the state but they’re having the same difficulties ordering it as everybody is, so it’s super difficult.”

The Ramsey County WIC Clinic in Saint Paul is also receiving a higher number of phone calls from participants seeking help finding formula.

“Parents are anxious right now, they are feeling this pinch,” said Meghan Johnson, the program supervisor. “In turn we can help them navigate that and figure out which products are available and okay for them to get on the WIC Program.”

Johnson explained they are also taking extra time to work with soon-to-be parents to prepare for breastfeeding.

“It’s always a piece of what we do but right now we want parents in Minnesota to be informed consumers, informed parents and be really confident in the options they have to feed their baby safely,” said Johnson.

The Ramsey County WIC clinic provides peer counseling services as well. Participants can connect with other WIC parents who have breastfeeding experience and lactation training.

“They can give people accurate information about breast and chest feeding basics so that families feel confident in getting a good start,” said Johnson. “And we have had a lot of interest in people reaching out and trying to connect with that service.”

Information about Ramsey County WIC programs can be found here.

For information about Bloomington WIC programs, click here.

Information about the additional formula options currently available to WIC participants can be found here.