Farm workers face obstacles in finding formula for their babies

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For years, Rosa Diaz has helped put food on America’s table, working five days a week picking squash, pumpkins and other vegetables from the fields around Homestead, Florida. But lately, she has struggled to feed her own child.

Nine-month-old Jennifer lives almost entirely on formula, which remains hard to find even a month after President Biden announced extraordinary measures to help ease a nationwide shortage. Diaz, 30, who doesn’t own a car, is often forced to pay for trips from store to store to track down the yellow cans of Enfamil her daughter is drinking.

Last week, Diaz’s husband found a single container, enough to last about three days. Once exhausted, she does not know what they will do.

“My pediatrician told me to boil some vegetables and puree them,” said Diaz, a mother of three who stopped working outside the home after Jennifer was born. With the baby on her hip, Diaz keeps moving, bending down to pick up toys and put them in a trash can as she sneaks into the apartment’s small kitchen to take stock. “I can’t find enough of a formula. I used to go to a store to find it.

The crisis that has sent parents across the country scrambling to find formula for their babies continues, hitting low-income families particularly hard, including in farmworker communities such as Homestead. As more affluent parents turn to expensive European brands or comb through the internet, sometimes willing to pay exorbitant markups when they find what they need, mothers, including Diaz, are often forced to rely on the variety they can find at their local stores, even if sudden dietary changes make their babies sick. Others are turning to homemade options that pediatricians say can be dangerous for infants.

The difficulties experienced by low-income women add to the financial burdens caused by inflation. Diaz now pays $21 a can for a formula that used to cost $14, she said. She says she gets a few cans a month from the WIC food assistance program, but Jennifer drinks 12. Repeated trips to the stores come at a financial cost in the age of $5 gas. And in an agricultural area where everything is spread out, the journeys are not short. They are also often unsuccessful.

Formula makers have ramped up production and the shortage is expected to ease in the coming weeks. But progress is often two steps forward, one step back: This month, a recently reopened formulas plant in Sturgis, Michigan, whose closure had been at the heart of the shortage, closed again after storms caused flooding at the facility. Across the country, retail store restocking progress remains slow: store shelves were 76.5% full for the week ending June 12, down slightly from the previous week, according to the cabinet. IRI studies.

Abbott’s formula factory closes again due to flooding

In Homestead, an agricultural area south of Miami, many of those struggling to feed their children are farmhands. About half of agricultural workers say they live with minor children, according the most recent national survey of agricultural workers, compared to a quarter of all adults. About a third of agricultural workers are women, according to the survey. Most farm workers are of childbearing age and 8 out of 10 are Hispanic, most from Mexico.

Many depend on formula milk when their children are babies – some by choice, but many because they spend long days in the fields where it is difficult, if not impossible, to breastfeed or pump to maintain their milk supply.

“Women farmworkers are always the worst off, and there are so many levels of disadvantage,” said Rick Nahmias, founder of Food Forward, a California food nonprofit. “They deal with sexual harassment and the burden of raising children. And because women are squatting in a field for six to nine hours a day, there is no opportunity to express breast milk or bring milk to their children.

Farmhand Elia Funez, 34, picks pumpkins, corn and squash in Homestead. Like Diaz, she struggled to find formula for her 5-month-old baby Victoria. A single mother living in a rented caravan with her daughter and three boys, aged 5, 7 and 10, Funez says she earns about $80 a day and doesn’t have the time or money to take on this new challenge.

After working a 10- or 11-hour day, she grabs her kids and sets off to find infant formula, traveling up to 45 minutes and paying up to $50 per box, she said. She said she initially breastfed Victoria, but was unable to do so afterwards. She tried switching brands when she managed to find them, she said, but they often make Victoria sick, she said.

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Undocumented workers have found themselves at a particular disadvantage amid the formula shortage as they are ineligible for some food safety net programs. But even legally residing immigrants are often hesitant to take advantage of these programs because of a Trump-era “public charge” rule that threatened to deny green cards to immigrants who used food stamps or other benefits. public. The Biden administration rolled back the public charge rule last year, but many immigrants still fear that taking public assistance will hamper their ability to live and work legally in this country.

Many food charities in agricultural areas have been unable to secure formula milk to give to needy families, said Melissa Acedera, executive director of Polo’s Pantry, a food charity in southern California. It has been supplying non-profit organizations in the Coachella Valley, including Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, with infant formula and diapers for several months.

“We really felt it as soon as the shortage hit,” Acedera said. “We literally did the shopping ourselves. I went to 10 different stores and was only able to get 15 cans because they all had limits [on how many cans shoppers could buy]. Target and Walmart had bare shelves.

There is a shortage of grocery stores in neighborhoods and farming communities, so some of the convenience stores are able to charge extortionate prices, Acedera said.

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“The level of access farm workers have to these necessities just isn’t there,” she said. “And they don’t have the salaries to pay what’s being billed. We fundraise specifically to purchase infant formula.

The Federal Trade Commission recently launched an investigation to determine whether small retailers and independent retailers had particular difficulty accessing limited supplies of formula compared to large chains, and to identify online scams.

Language barriers can also make it difficult for farm workers to find what their families need. This population is also susceptible to scams, said Mily Treviño-Sauceda, executive director of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, an advocacy organization for women agricultural workers. The fear of complaining to authorities can put them at particular risk, she said.

“These women say they go to family convenience stores, the only stores nearby, and often much more expensive than going to a supermarket, which are often too far without a commute, or with gas prices so high. Some will use public transport, but there are not enough routes,” she said, so they often have to pay the exorbitant “scarcity” prices that small independent shops charge for formula .

Alianza Nacional de Campesinas calls on the FTC and the Department of Justice to hold accountable those who have left some of the country’s most vulnerable workers without recourse.

“It gives me chills to think how bad it is with these families,” Treviño-Sauceda said.

About Cassondra Durden

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