Eye On Illinois: Food access program has potential to deliver significant results

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Back in my editorial board days, a late-December staple was thanking readers for holiday food drive contributions paired with a reminder that hunger continues the other 11 months of the year.

Those sentiments surface as we continue rounding out the year with quick hits on laws taking effect Jan. 1 by considering the Healthy Food Access Development Program. State Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago, introduced House Hill 2382 in February 2021. Revived in February 2022, the House passed it 104-0 in and the Senate 54-0 in March; the governor signed it June 9. But food deserts are a concern that knows no season.

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland

If “food deserts” is a new term, I commend the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Access Research Atlas (tinyurl.com/FoodAccessAtlas), which includes an interactive map showing the issue exists in urban and rural pockets throughout Illinois (two HB 2382 sponsors come from Peoria – state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth and state Sen. David Koehler).

Starting in January, according to a state press release, the Department of Human Services will coordinate with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to help grocers, farmers markets and small retailers secure grants, loans, equipment or other financial aid, awarded on a competitive basis. Any business that gets help must sell produce or “healthy” foods, per federal definitions, for at least three years.

Writing about the program in August, the Council of State Governments said “Participating vendors will be ‘strongly encouraged’ to accept benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Women, Infants and Children program, and employ Illinois residents.”

Suburbanites have no concept of minimal grocery options. But it’s not a profitable business everywhere, and although this plan is still short on details, it bears watching in 2023 for its potential to address a key life quality issue in many overlooked Illinois communities.

ON THIS DAY: Last Wednesday I noted the 50th anniversary of Illinois native Gene Cernan becoming the last human to walk on the moon. Today marks another space anniversary – the 1968 launch of the Apollo 8 mission carrying the first three astronauts to orbit the moon. One was Jim Lovell also a key part of the more famous Apollo 13 mission (Tom Hanks played him in the movie). Though not an Illinoisan by birth, Lovell settled in Lake Forest after his retirement from the Navy and NASA and maintained a home there until earlier this year, after his 94th birthday.

Need a last-minute gift? Consider Lovell’s “Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13,” adapted for the film, or “Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon” by former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Robert Kurson, himself an Illinois native and a captivating nonfiction writer.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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December 21, 2022 at 05:08AM

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