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'There's just nothing:' Baby formula shortage still leaves families desperate, especially those restricted by federal WIC program rules

Baby formula shortage hits those in federal WIC program especially hard
Baby formula shortage hits those in federal WIC program especially hard 02:51

PALATINE, Ill. (CBS) -- Walk into the baby formula aisle at just about any drug or grocery store around the country, and you will see rows of empty shelves.

While Abbott expects production to ramp up in the coming weeks, it's not fast enough for families in desperate need of formula and dependent on the government for financial assistance.

CBS 2's Charlie De Mar met Christine Blanchard as she went on her way to give it another shot. Blanchard goes from store to store, hunting for the formula her 7-month-old granddaughter Aaliyah needs.

She had no luck at a Walmart in Palatine.

"It's heartbreaking to see I'm not the only one," Blanchard said. "There's just nothing."

Little Aaliyah's formula is free through the federal WIC program — formally known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

But recipients are restricted to the Nutramigen brand of powdered formula – and Blanchard is almost out of it.

The map below from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that most states are offering a variety of waivers to ease some of the WIC program's strict guidelines and give parents options during the shortage. But Illinois, shaded in black, is the only state not offering a single waiver. 

abbottmap.jpg
USDA

"I'm going to have to open another can – and I don't know where or when I'm going to get another can," Blanchard said, "and that's really scary."

Back on the hunt for formula, the shelves were just as empty at the Jewel-Osco in Palatine. The nationwide shortage is due in part to a recall of several formulas made by Lake Bluff-based Abbott. The company on Monday announced that a deal has been reached with the Food and Drug Administration to reopen its Sturgis, Michigan plant.

But for hungry babies like Aaliyah—the need is now.

"People don't have days or weeks to wait for the red tape," Blanchard said.

Lawmakers in Washington are set to take up legislation that would loosen some of the red tape for WIC recipients and make it easier for them to get the formula they need. 

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