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‘Food desert’ bill takes effect Jan. 1

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(The Center Square) – Starting Jan. 1, a new law in Illinois will establish the Illinois Grocery Initiative, a multi-pronged policy Gov. J.B. Pritzker says is designed to address food deserts across the state.

Senate Bill 850 allows grocery stores receiving taxpayer-funded grants as part of the program to be designated as high-impact businesses, providing the opportunity to receive tax credits.

Pritzker signed the measure into law in August and said it aims to help those areas that do not have enough food.

“I proposed the Illinois Grocery Initiative to provide financial assistance to new and existing independent grocery stores, nonprofit stores, cooperatives, and municipal-run grocery stores throughout the state,” Pritzker said.

Illinoisans shouldn’t have to make tough decisions regarding food, he said.

“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,” Pritzker said.

The measure received bipartisan support in the General Assembly.

State Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Swansea, said what people put into their bodies can make a significant impact.

“The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison,” Belt said in August. “Unfortunately, because of circumstances beyond our control, many of us are stuck to choosing the later.”

Belt said better food means healthier people.

“Food insecurities can lead to Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease,” Belt said. “What we eat is central to our health.”

Not everyone was in support of the measure. State Rep. Marty McLaughlin, R-Barrington Hills, questioned the measure during debate.

“I understand the intent, we want to help those that need to be served, however, there are much better ways to do it than putting the future taxpayer on the hook … and having the government-run grocery stores is an absolute, horrendous idea,” said McLaughlin.

The law goes into effect at the start of the new year.

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