How the Illinois Grocery Initiative Plans to End Food Deserts

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed Senate Bill 850, establishing the Illinois Grocery Initiative, a first-of-its-kind law designed to combat food deserts across the state.

The initiative will support existing grocers and encourage new grocery stores to open through incentive opportunities.

According to a press release, the legislation also allows grocery stores receiving grants as part of the program to be designated as High Impact Businesses, allowing them to receive tax credits and other incentives.

“The Illinois Grocery Initiative is the latest expansion of our holistic approach to ensuring Illinois families can reach the big building blocks of a good life,” said Governor Pritzker. “When our residents struggle to keep a roof over their head, can’t put food on the table, or have to choose between paying for basic medical care and keeping the lights on—that’s a failure of the system.”

“That’s why I’m proud to sign into law the Illinois Grocery Initiative—a first-of-its-kind $20 million investment to open or expand grocery stores in underserved rural towns and urban neighborhoods,” underscored Governor Pritzker.

Through the Illinois Grocery Initiative, $20 million will be invested in addressing food deserts, with the majority supporting grocers in these areas.

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The program will provide wrap-around support to local governments and independent grocers opening grocery stores in food deserts, including technical assistance, feasibility studies, and marketing, help with operational costs, and access to capital funding for acquiring land, facilities, or equipment.

Up to 20 percent of program funding may be used for grants for energy-efficient equipment upgrades to existing independently owned, cooperative, and for-profit grocery stores.

“Every community deserves fresh, nutrient-dense food, and the investments that will be made through the Illinois Grocery Initiative will expand food access and take us to the next level in our mission to uplift all Illinoisans,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. “Whether you live in a rural or an urban area, our administration is taking the next great steps to ensure communities statewide have the resources to live well and thrive.”

Grocers receiving grant support from the Illinois Grocery Initiative will be eligible for the High Impact Business Program to reduce operations costs. This includes tax exemptions on utilities and building materials.

“This new law serves as a critical resource and lifeline to those who have been impacted by food deserts across our state,” said State Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg). “Access to fresh, nutritious food can be hard to find, especially in the 59th District. The signing of this bill is a big step in the right direction as we work towards eliminating our great state’s food insecurities.”

To gather a complete understanding of the proliferation of food deserts and food insecurity in Illinois, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) will commission a study to explore reasons for market declines, historical disparities in access to food, potential policy solutions, geographic trends, the role of independent grocers, and more.

The study is designed to inform potential future iterations of program resources.

The Grocery Initiative Act is a crucial step toward ensuring equitable access to healthy food for all residents of Illinois,” said State Sen. Christopher Belt (D-Swansea). “No person should have to travel great distances to find fresh food. By providing financial assistance to grocery stores, we can incentivize the establishment and expansion of stores in areas that are considered food deserts.”