D.C. Dispatch: Iowa lawmakers disagree on how to address baby formula shortage

By: - May 20, 2022 12:06 pm

Members of Iowa's congressional delegation clashed this week over how to best address the national shortage of baby formula. (Photo by Ariel Skelley/Getty Images)

Iowa’s representatives joined in bipartisan support to aid veterans and members of the armed forces in re-entering the workforce, as well as advancing breast cancer treatment technology for female veterans.

Before the House goes on a two-week break, lawmakers also voted on legislation to allocate additional funds to respond to the baby formula shortage. 

Infant formula shortage 

Iowa lawmakers disagreed about how best to address a nationwide shortage of infant formula.

All Iowa’s lawmakers supported the Access to Baby Formula Act. The bill charges the U.S. Department of Agriculture with ensuring individuals dependent on the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) federal assistance program receive infant formula at an affordable price.

Sen. Chuck Grassley was a co-sponsor of the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously Thursday and is headed to the president’s desk.

“Both now and in the future, we must ensure all families are able to purchase formula needed to feed their infants. That’s why I was proud to support the Access to Baby Formula Act, which will help families utilizing the WIC program while also taking necessary steps to prevent a dangerous baby formula shortage from ever happening again,” Grassley said in a statement.

Rep. Cindy Axne, the lone Democrat in the delegation, was the only Iowan to support the Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriation Act, which passed the House this week. The bill would allocate $28 million in emergency funds to the U.S. Food and Drug administration to address the crisis and prevent future shortages. In Iowa, more than 50% of formulas are out of stock. 

“As a mom, I know firsthand just how critical it is for families to have access to safe baby formula and the current crisis is leaving families in Iowa and across the country without anywhere to turn. I’ve heard stories from parents in my district who are spending hours trying to hunt down formula, and it’s unacceptable,” Axne said in a press release. 

Rep. Ashley Hinson proposed an alternative plan that would take $5.7 million from unused pandemic funds to address the formula shortage. Her plan would also require the FDA to report to Congress on supply chain shortage. 

The Biden Administration ignored the warning signs that a formula shortage was imminent, sitting on their hands until shelves were bare,” Hinson said in a press release. “Their incompetence underscores the need for funding to come with guardrails and accountability for the FDA’s failures. Throwing additional money at a problem is the wrong approach.”

Supporting vets to develop small businesses

A bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Joni Ernst to aid veterans in developing entrepreneurial skills passed the Senate Small Business Committee on Wednesday. Ernst sponsored the Veteran Entrepreneurship Training (VET) Act with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat and fellow military veteran. The bill creates business training for active members of the armed forces and veterans. 

As of 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 386,00 veterans were unemployed but this number has decreased over time. The VET Act would codify the “Boots to Business” program for four years.

“Our servicemembers and their families sacrifice to defend and preserve our country, and for many, the years following their time in uniform can be difficult,” Ernst said in a news release. “We want to create ways to ease that transition back to civilian life by setting them up with opportunities that will allow them to succeed in not only the workforce, but in their day to day lives.”

Creating health services for female veterans

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks speaks in a video posted by her campaign Dec. 22, 2020. (Screen shot of Miller-Meeks campaign video)

The Senate and House passed two pieces of bipartisan legislation to support women veterans. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks co-sponsored the SERVICE Act with Republican and Democrat members of the Senate.

The bill would require Veterans Affairs to update the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees on the numbers of women diagnosed with breast cancer who serve in the armed forces. It would also require the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide mammogram screenings for veterans who have been exposed to burn pits or other toxic exposures. Miller-Meeks spoke on the House floor Wednesday about how women veterans are at a 20% to 40% higher risk of breast cancer, and the risk increases when they are exposed to toxins and burn pits.

Miller-Meeks also joined Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, introducing the MAMMO for Veterans Act, which passed unanimously in the Senate. This bill would upgrade all 3D mammography in Veteran Affairs to the highest standard of imaging technology and expand on research for breast cancer treatment. 

“Our veterans risked their lives and their health in service to our country. Female veterans are especially at risk for several types of cancer, especially breast cancer,” Miller-Meeks said in a press release. “As a doctor, I have always told my patients that early detection is the key to successfully treating all types of cancer. I am thrilled to see both of my bipartisan bills pass the House today and I look forward to seeing them become law to support female veterans across the country.”

Axne to expand affordable on postsecondary education for veterans

A bill introduced by Axne in January, the Student Veteran Work Study Modernization Act, passed the House 370-43 on Tuesday. The bill is intended to help part-time student veterans to finish certifications or a degree without excessive student debt. 

“I am so pleased to get my legislation passed out of the House with broad bipartisan support because our veterans earned their benefits during their service,” Axne said in a press release. “We don’t need to put limits on veterans’ education when they have families to take care of or mortgages to pay.”

Iowa Republicans sponsor rewards for responsible agriculture practices

The House Agriculture Committee unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Hinson to create a conservation loan program to adopt environmentally responsible farming practices and technology. The Producing Responsible Energy and Conservation Incentives and Solutions for the Environment (PRECISE) Act was cosponsored by Rep. Randy Feenstra and Miller-Meeks.

 “This legislation will make it easier for Iowa farmers to access precision agriculture technology through USDA programs they already know and trust,” Hinson said. 

Grassley introduces bill to improve public safety

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks to a crowd of about 100 in Denison on April 20, 2022. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Grassley joined Georgia Democratic Sen. John Ossoff  introduced legislation to create training for law enforcement officials and first responders called to mental health cases.  The Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and PTSD Law Enforcement Training Act builds on an existing mental health program for people who come into contact with the justice system.

“It’s important that our police and all first responders are empowered with the resources they need to address a variety of emergencies, including incidents that involve people with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder,” Grassley said in a news release Thursday. “Our legislation would provide departments with crisis intervention tools that can help de-escalate situations and improve outcomes for everyone involved.” 

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Kate Kealey
Kate Kealey

Katherine Kealey is a senior majoring in journalism and political science at Iowa State University. Before interning at the Iowa Capital Dispatch, she interned at the Carroll Times Herald. She served as the editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily in 2022.