ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. — A bipartisan measure backed by state Rep. Mary Beth Canty, D-Arlington Heights, to combat food insecurity by making financial assistance available to grocery stores located in areas designated as food deserts, was signed by the governor on Aug. 18.
“Ready access to nourishing, affordable food—and especially fresh produce—is a human right. When any community lacks access to fresh, healthy food we all pay the price,” Canty said. “Food deserts are a public health crisis that can’t be ignored any longer. I’m hopeful this measure will crack down on food-insecurity and I’m grateful to Governor Pritzker for signing this into law.”
Canty’s Grocery Initiative Act, Senate Bill 850, provides Grocery Initiative Grants and other financial assistance to all existing and planned grocery stores located in areas designated as food deserts. Further, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) will perform a study of food insecurity in urban and rural food deserts. The DCEO can prioritize grant applicants based on poverty rates, income, geographic diversity, local ownership and access to other grocery stores. Smaller, locally-owned grocery stores are likely to get preference.
This measure is in response to a 2021 Department of Public Health study that showed over 3 million Illinoisans live in areas designated as food deserts. Senate Bill 850 had the support of the Illinois Farm Bureau, Chicago Food Policy Action Council, Greater Chicago Food Depository and Midwest Independent Retailers Association. It received robust bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
“Having an extremely limited food selection takes a toll on physical and mental health,” Canty said. “When nutrition goes down, rates of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes go up. The stress of living with those conditions—or caring for someone who does—worsens mental health, and treating those problems leads to high medical bills. Food deserts aren’t simply an issue of not getting a preferred brand of cereal. They hurt entire lives and families and communities, and leaving this problem untreated is not an option.”