In a bid to support residents in rural and underserved communities and cut down on the number of food deserts, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the creation of the Illinois Grocery Initiative. The governor shared some details of the plan in his recent State of the State address and fiscal 2024 budget presentation.
Through this initiative, the state would invest upwards of $20 million in local communities to open or expand grocery stores in areas considered a food desert. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Access Atlas reveals pockets of food deserts both in the city of Chicago and in parts of central and southern Illinois.
[Read more: "States Weigh Grocery Tax Suspension, Removal"]
“We ... need to recognize that it does no good to provide a family with more money to purchase food if they have no local grocery store to shop at,” Pritzker declared. He also noted that despite the state and local governments’ efforts to incentivize large chains to come to rural and underserved areas, some retailers eventually pull out. (Although he didn’t name a particular company, the 2022 closing of a Whole Foods in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood attracted a lot of community, political and social media attention.)
Instead, Pritzker proposed independent grocers can fill an important void. “It’s time we return to a tried and true model — one where those communities are served by independent, local grocery stores that sell food grown by Illinois farmers,” he said.
The Illinois Grocery Initiative also includes $2 million earmarked for the purchase of healthy, nutritious food from Illinois farmers. With nearly 72,000 farms within its borders, the Midwestern state is a leading producer of soybeans and corn, and its farmers and growers also provide wheat, oats, hay, fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry.
This isn’t Pritzker’s first foray into food retailing relief. Last year, the state suspended its 1% sales tax on groceries through July 1 of this year.