Sens. Marshall, Gillibrand Legislation Creates Competition, Quality in WIC Infant Formula Contracts
(Washington, D.C., November 17, 2021) – U.S. Senators Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-KS) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the WIC Healthy Beginnings Act to promote competition and quality for infant formula manufacturers by creating an online database administered through USDA to centralize state solicitations in order to streamline bids from formula manufacturers to state WIC programs. Currently, an infant formula manufacturer would have to sift through all contract solicitations in all 50 states in order to make bids, this bill makes it a one-stop-shop process.
“I am excited to be introducing a bill which will lead to higher quality formulas for America’s mothers and their children as well as level the playing field for small and large formula manufacturers,” said Senator Marshall. “This bill will improve the WIC public-private partnership to more closely align with regular contracting norms to ensure transparency and access to high quality and safe product.”
“The WIC program serves as a lifeline for families struggling to keep food on the table and the WIC Healthy Beginnings Act, introduced by myself and Senator Marshall, will help make the program run in a more transparent way and work to help prevent disruptions in getting essential nutrition to mothers, children, and infants,” said Senator Gillibrand.
“The Infant Nutrition Council of America (INCA) strongly supports The WIC Healthy Beginnings Act,” says Mardi Mountford, President of INCA. “As the largest private partner to the WIC Program, the infant formula industry provides $1.5-2 billion annually in the form of rebates, which substantially offset WIC food and program costs and help to feed nearly half of all infants in the U.S. This important legislation will help make the program more efficient by creating a single, publicly available database of bid solicitations for infant formula contracts. It will also make the program more effective by providing all interested stakeholders with one location to access open bid solicitations.”
“WIC has effectively returned taxpayers savings on its federal investment by delivering quality nutrition outcomes for women, babies, and young children. WIC is also the nation’s go to breastfeeding promotion program. But, when new mothers are unable to or choose not to breastfeed, WIC ensures that new parents have access to infant formula without significant cost to taxpayers or WIC families,” said Rev. Douglas Greenaway, President & CEO of the National WIC Association. “This legislation builds on three decades of proven success of cost-effective WIC infant formula procurement. It further streamlines the process and strengthens the partnership between public and private entities that support WIC parents. As Congress considers a Child Nutrition Reauthorization, we thank Senators Marshall and Gillibrand for their thoughtful leadership in advancing efficient and modern proposals that support WIC’s aim of supporting health outcomes for new parents and their young children.”
This bill was introduced in tandem with the MODERN Act led by Senator Gillibrand and Senator Marshall, which serves as an effort to continue the virtual certification and re-certification WIC process following its establishment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides half of infants born in the U.S. with access to breastfeeding education and counseling and supplemental nutritious food. While WIC is primarily a breastfeeding promotion program, WIC does offer iron-fortified infant formula for partially breastfed and fully formula-fed infants. Leading health experts and federal agencies recommend Iron-fortified infant formula as an appropriate substitute when breast milk is not an option.WIC participants obtain access to infant formula through the state WIC agency’s competitive bidding process.
Since 1989, federal law has required State WIC Agencies to ensure efficient use of federal funds and contain infant formula costs by having an open solicitation for infant formula contracts. The competitive bidding process for purchasing infant formula is an essential effort for WIC state agencies and consortiums to maintain the program’s overall cost-effectiveness.Through competitive bidding, WIC is able to save approximately $1.7 billion in spending, assuring that WIC can serve more eligible parent(s) and their infants, provide quality nutrition services to more families, and reduce federal costs through annual appropriations.
Competitive bidding for infant formula contracts could be more efficient and more savings could be achieved by streamlining information sharing. Since this process is managed through state procurement processes, infant formula manufacturers currently have to visit each state (or consortium) WIC agency’s website and anticipate when a solicitation will be available. As a result of fragmented information, competitive submissions are not maximized, and manufacturers sometimes miss out on the opportunity to compete for a contract.
The WIC Healthy Beginnings Act aims to improve the WIC public-private partnership to more closely align with regular contracting norms to ensure transparency and access to high quality and safe products. Specifically, this bipartisan legislation will establish a federal public notice for all open WIC infant formula contracts that will increase competitive applications for state WIC agencies and level the playing field for infant formula manufacturers to compete.
The bipartisan legislation would require state WIC agencies – including consortiums – to submit to USDA open solicitations. The USDA maintains that list rather than allowing it to be on a state-by-state basis. The fully searchable database would include:
- the title of the bid solicitation and the state agency administering the bid solicitation,
- the website hyperlink and other information needed for the purpose of submitting a bid in response to the bid solicitation,
- the contact information and website hyperlink for the state agency administering the bid solicitation, for the purpose of gathering additional information relating to the bid solicitation, and
- the period during which bids are accepted or the due date for bids, as applicable, under the bid solicitation.