Some criticize proposed grants for groceries to eliminate ‘food deserts’ in Illinois

(The Center Square) – Legislation moving through Springfield would give state taxpayer funds to new or existing grocers in an effort to eliminate so-called “food deserts.”

Senate Bill 850, as amended by the Illinois House, would allow the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to create a Grocery Initiative that would study food deserts and provide taxpayer funds for new and existing grocery stores in those areas.

The measure describes food deserts as low-income communities that are at least a half-mile from a grocery store in urban areas and at least 10 miles from a market in rural areas.

State Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, said a grocery store is the lifeblood of a small community.

“When you lose a grocery store, you lose the identity of your community, and you lose the ability to retain population and keep families in your community,” Spain said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year sets aside $20 million for the grocery store initiative.

State Rep. Martin McLaughlin, R-Barrington Hills, said government should not be in the grocery store business.

“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 of Illinois, and having the government run grocery stores is an absolute, horrendous idea,” McLaughlin said.

State Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva, said this isn’t the answer for the problems some face in Illinois.

“We continue to put policies in place and pass bills and legislation that prevent businesses from wanting to come here and make it more costly for them to be here,” Ugaste said.

The House passed the measure, which is now headed back to the Senate. Legislators return Wednesday.

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