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

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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 and the Senate 54-0 in March; the governor signed it June 9.

But food deserts are a concern that knows no season.

If “food deserts” is a new term, I commend the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Access Research Atlas — at 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.

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

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January 5, 2023 at 06:11PM

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