Two days after Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency over the shortage of baby formula rocking the state and the nation, the Assembly Women and Children Committee held a hearing today to discuss potential ways New Jersey can address the crisis.
The consensus among both legislators and the advocates who came to testify seemed to be that the legislature has little ability to alleviate the crisis from the production side; making more baby formula largely rests on the shoulders of formula companies and the federal government. But solutions from the consumer end, including more judicious uses of formula and the establishment of breast milk banks, were brought up as realistic proposals on a state level.
“This is a scary and stressful time for many families, not only in New Jersey but across our country,” said Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-Gloucester), the committee chair, who herself has 10-month-old triplets who need a special variety of formula. “The point of this discussion today is to spread awareness to see what information we can share with families on how to make this horrible situation less stressful.”
According to several of those who testified, New Jersey has no major breast milk donation infrastructure of its own, and relies instead largely on milk banks in other parts of the Northeast. Establishing that infrastructure, and educating skeptical mothers about the safety of donated milk, could go a long way, said Ellen Maughan of the New Jersey Breastfeeding Coalition.
“We can help to decrease demand for formula by using human donor milk,” Maughan said. “With the governor’s emergency order, what I was going to recommend today is the possibility of using emergency powers to have the New Jersey Department of Health adopt regulations … to accredit human milk banks that either are in New Jersey or distribute milk within New Jersey.”
Mothers and medical institutions could also be more selective about when formula is used, several testifiers noted.
“During my first pregnancy and birth, the hospital did push formula,” Assemblywoman Lisa Swain (D-Fair Lawn) said. “I woke up after falling asleep for a minute, and I saw that the nurse was giving my baby formula, which I never asked for.”
Murphy’s order from Tuesday prevents retailers from charging more than a 10% markup on formula, with the Department of Consumer Affairs tasked with enforcing the order. And President Joe Biden said yesterday that he’ll invoke the Defense Production Act to increase production of formula, while the U.S. House approved measures to increase funding for the Food and Drug Administration and loosen restrictions on formula purchased through welfare programs.