vegan groceryCHICAGO — State Senators Christopher Belt and Mike Simmons expressed support for a new grant program under the Illinois Grocery Initiative that was announced Tuesday. Paired with the Equipment Upgrades Program, the initiatives are a $20 million effort to address food deserts and prevent grocery store closures in Illinois.

“As a proud supporter of equitable access to nutritious food, I’m thrilled to learn of the latest steps the Illinois Grocery Initiative has made in combating food insecurity statewide,” said Belt (D-Swansea). “The Equipment Upgrades Program and the New Stores in Food Deserts Program represent critical investments in our communities, providing vital support to independent, nonprofit and co-op grocery stores. Today’s announcement reaffirms our commitment to ensuring no resident goes without affordable, healthy food.”

The New Stores in Food Deserts Program will offer competitive grants to encourage the establishment of new grocery stores in USDA-defined food deserts. Awards can range between $160,000 and $2.4 million, with a 1:3 match requirement from businesses. Grocery stores must be located in a food desert, earn less than 30% of revenue from alcohol and tobacco sales, accept SNAP and WIC and contribute to diversity of fresh foods available in the community.

“Everyone deserves access to fresh, nutritious food – regardless of where they live – made available to them through sustainable practices," said Simmons (D-Chicago). "The Illinois Grocery Initiative will help fight food insecurity by empowering our local food providers, like mom and pop corner stores, co-ops, and independently owned grocers, to provide the best food possible to our communities."

Qualified entities include units of local government and independent grocers or cooperatives with fewer than 500 employees and no more than four grocery locations. New Stores in Food Deserts grants will fund construction and renovation costs for new stores, as well as many first-year operations costs, such as employee wages, utility costs, initial inventory of food and more.

For more information and to apply, visit the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s website.