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Governor signs new law to combat food deserts in the Southland

A new law sponsored state Sen. Patrick Joyce (D-Essex) will combat the increasing number of food deserts across the state and in the Southland.

“I have met with many residents across the district who say food deserts are a major issue that we need to take action to address,” Joyce said. “Families should not be going hungry because of the lack of investment in their ZIP code.”

Under the new law, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will provide grants and other forms of financial assistance to grocery stores located in food deserts to help mitigate the lack of access to fresh food in communities across the state. An area is considered a food desert when urban residents have to travel more than half a mile and rural residents have to travel more than 10 miles to the nearest grocery store.

According to the USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas, which presents an overview of food access indicators for low-income and other census tracts using different measures of supermarket accessibility, there are several food deserts across Chicago Heights, Park Forest, Richton Park and University Park. A 2021 report by the Illinois Department of Public Health shows that approximately 3.3 million people — or one in four Illinois residents — live in a food desert.

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“People deserve to have fresh and healthy food available close to where they live,” said Joyce. “Not only does this help urban communities, it will help our rural communities and farmers establish relationships with local grocery stores to provide fresh produce.”

Senate Bill 850 was signed Friday, Aug. 18, and takes effect Jan. 1, 2024.

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