By Stacy Dean, Deputy Under Secretary, Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services
WIC is a powerful public health program, serving nearly half of all babies born in the country. To help keep program costs manageable, Congress requires WIC state agencies to contract with an infant formula manufacturer to provide discounted formula for purchase with WIC benefits. The state agencies solicit bids from manufacturers and award a contract to the one that offers the most cost-effective bid. This process helps save taxpayers an estimated $1.7 billion per year on formula provided through WIC and allow the program to continue to make WIC benefits available to all eligible mothers, infants, and young children.
To increase transparency around this contracting process, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service recently launched a webpage – first announced by the Biden-Harris Administration earlier this year – where we will post all open state solicitations for infant formula bids. By centralizing this information in one place, the WIC formula contract solicitations webpage makes it easy for manufacturers – including those new to WIC – to find and compete for open opportunities.
Increasing transparency and encouraging competition around WIC formula contracts may seem purely bureaucratic, but it’s actually a vital step toward ensuring babies can get the formula they need. Right now, there are only three manufacturers with contracts to be the primary providers of infant formula through WIC. Increasing visibility around contract opportunities is one step USDA can take that may help bring additional manufacturers into the program. With more than half of the country’s formula going to WIC babies, diversifying the source of the formula provided through WIC would strengthen the resiliency of the nation’s formula supply and help ensure there’s always enough to go around.
This goal of increasing transparency around the contracting process benefited from bipartisan Congressional support led by Sen. Roger Marshall (Kan.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), who introduced the WIC Healthy Beginnings Act that proposed this new webpage. Their leadership and collaboration with their colleagues in the House who sponsored companion legislation – Reps. Lucy McBath (Ga.), Lisa McClain (Mich.), Andy Levin (Mich.), and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (Iowa) – helped bring this idea to fruition.
We look forward to continuing our work with WIC champions in Congress – where the program has long received bipartisan support – and other partners to make sure WIC continues to be an invaluable resource for mothers, babies, and children across the country.