The worsening baby formula shortage across the country has prompted New York health officials to expand efforts to distribute formulas and monitor supply chains, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday.
The push to help families in New York find and obtain baby formula comes as national data suggested formula shortages have grown more dire in recent weeks.
The baby formula shortage began in November 2021, when about 11% of popular brands were out of stock, according to data analytics firm Datasembly. As of May 8, 43% of baby formula was sold out at retailers across the U.S. because of recalls and supply chain strains.
Major retailers such as CVS, Target and Walmart have also put purchase limits on baby formula due to the shortage, which was fueled in part by a voluntary recall Abbott Nutrition issued in mid-February recalling select batches of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formulas made in Sturgis, Michigan. That recall was expanded in late February to include one lot of Similac PM 60/40.
In New York, state health officials have been directing families to contact a range of programs to obtain baby formula, including the state Women, Infants and Children Office, or WIC, which has coordinated with manufacturers to track formula shipments to guide New Yorkers struggling to find it locally.
“My administration is committed to ensuring every newborn and child has access to the nutritional support they need to stay healthy,” Hochul said in a statement.
Meanwhile, reports are mounting of New Yorkers desperately searching for baby formula and getting scammed by online sellers amid potential price gouging, state Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.
“The last thing any family needs is to be price gouged on critical nutrition for their little ones, which is why I am putting profiteers seeking to take advantage of this crisis on notice,” James said.
“If New Yorkers see exorbitant price increases for baby formula, I encourage them to report it to my office immediately,” she added.
How to obtain baby formula in New York
The state effort to help New Yorkers obtain baby formula includes various WIC programs, which are directing people to various stores across the state, according to the governor’s office.
Eligibility for WIC is based in part on income. For example, a family of four must earn less than $51,388 to be eligible for WIC. There is also an online chatbot in New York, called Wanda, that prescreens people for WIC eligibility.
There is also a website — nyswicvendors.com — that allows New Yorkers to search for WIC stores to inquire about formula supplies.
Further, state health officials urged New Yorkers to contact local agencies participating in WIC for additional details about obtaining formula. A list of local agencies is posted online at www.health.ny.gov/prevention/nutrition/wic/.
New Yorkers can call the Growing Up Healthy Hotline at 1-800-522-5006 for further assistance with WIC eligibility and access questions.
The state Health Department has also increased communication with formula manufacturers to monitor the production of can sizes, supply, and shipments, Hochul said, noting the agency distributes diapers, formula and other infant supplies through its home visiting program and partnership networks.
The Health Department did not immediately provide answers Friday to questions about funding for formula distribution efforts, as well as the number of New Yorkers contacting the agency for help getting formula.
Health officials called on families to not hoard formula, noting it would further impact the supply chain and other families in their community.
Other Health Department tips for families struggling to find formula include:
- Call your OBGYN or the infant’s medical provider to see if they have in-office samples or can suggest a similar formula that may be more readily available in stores that is nutritionally similar to meet the infant’s needs.
- Visit smaller stores and drugstores that carry formula. But try to call first to see if they have formula in stock.
- Look online for options available, but be sure to only order from well-recognized distributors and pharmacies. Don’t buy formula online from people you don’t know on social media sites, online auctions, or overseas.
- Be sure to follow the formula manufacturer’s preparation and storage instructions.
- Don’t use toddler formula to feed infants.
- Don’t water down formula or try to make infant formula at home.
How to report baby formula price gouging in NY
New York state law prohibits merchants from taking unfair advantage of consumers by selling goods or services that are vital to their health, safety, or welfare for an unconscionably excessive price, James said.
When reporting price gouging, consumers should:
- Report the specific increased prices, the dates, and places that they saw the increased prices, and the types of formula being sold; and,
- Provide copies of their sales receipts and photos of the advertised prices, if available.
New Yorkers should report potential concerns about price gouging to OAG by filing a complaint online or call 800-771-7755.
The state Division of Consumer Protection also issued an alert Wednesday detailing baby formula scams, especially those circulating on the Internet and social media.
The agency’s tips include:
- If the website is advertising unusually low prices, consumers should be wary and diligently verify the legitimacy of the seller.
- Consumers should review the website copyright date and domain creation date, as recently created sites are a tell-tale sign of scam sites, and typos on the web site are a red flag that it may not be legitimate.
- Beware of third-party vendors: If redirected from a trusted site to a third-party site. Read the sellers policies, review ratings, and consumer comments, and most importantly, do a broad internet search before making your purchase.
For further details about scams, call the state’s Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220.
Bailey Schulz USA TODAY Network contributed to this report.
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David Robinson is the state health care reporter for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached email@example.com and followed on Twitter:@DrobinsonLoHud