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State, Federal Lawmakers Seek to Support Small Grocers

Proposed bills include funds to bolster businesses and increase food security
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Small grocery store
Smaller grocers in both rural and urban areas, facing competition and high costs, may get relief through loans and grants proposed by political representatives.

Grocers are getting a helping hand from lawmakers and government leaders this month, through proposed legislation across several states. The move comes as competition in and beyond the grocery channel continues to intensify and as food retailers contend with ongoing economic challenges.

[RELATED: “NGA Gov’t Relations Committee Finalizes 2024 Policy Agenda”]

Below is a recap of some of those efforts:

  • In Illinois, the state is releasing $3.5 million in grant monies to local grocers to update equipment such as refrigeration systems, lighting and energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. The equipment upgrade is the first program to be implemented as part of the Illinois Grocery Initiative, through which retailers – especially those in areas considered food deserts – can improve their businesses and help shore up food security. "Local grocery stores are the backbone of food-secure and healthy communities, and investing in upgrades for these local pillars grants them the stability needed to continue serving local needs and ensuring access to fresh food," said Governor JB Pritzker. "This grant program will help offset energy costs and form a greener infrastructure, a win-win that makes our state stronger and battles food deserts in the communities most at-risk."
  • Legislators in Iowa proposed a bill to support grocers, earmarking $2 million in grants and loans to help independent and rural operators sustain or start stores. Senate Study Bill (SSB) 3074 is supported by the nonprofit group, Center for Rural Affairs. “Grocery stores are an integral part of the community, providing essential resources as well as economic and social benefits,” said Cynthia Farmer, the Center’s policy associate. “Since the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, supply chain issues, and increased online shopping have strained local grocers, especially in rural areas. The Grocer Reinvestment Fund and Program would provide financial support to grocers for cost-saving efforts and business efficiency to ensure long-term sustainability.”
  • Similarly, on Jan. 10, the Nebraska Grocer Reinvestment Option Act was introduced in the Nebraska legislature to help small grocers invest in their businesses with loans and grants. 
  • U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is touting the Healthy Food Financing Initiative Reauthorization Act aimed at reducing food deserts in underserved communities. That Act, with a proposed $50 million in annual funding by 2028, supports grants and loans for grocers. The bill was first introduced in 2023 but has since stalled in the process and may now be picked up as part of the broader Farm Bill. “An easily accessible grocery store is a basic necessity, but for years, some residents of Broome County haven’t had consistent access to one,” Gillibrand said. “That means that they have to travel miles outside their neighborhood just to buy staple groceries, and for residents without a car, that can mean a multi-hour journey by foot or public transit. It’s unacceptable. USDA’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative is a critical public-private partnership that provides grocers with financial incentives to establish locations in these underserved communities.”
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