Illinois’ new fight against food deserts to benefit independent grocers

The Local Checkout: Governor signs Senate Bill 850, which establishes the Illinois Grocery Initiative. Plus: indies keep a close watch on the FTC.
food insecurity
Illinois Governor Governor JB Pritzker recently signed a bill into law that will fight against food deserts. / Photo courtesy: Shutterstock

The Local Checkout

Fighting food deserts

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker recently signed a bill into law that not only fights against food deserts in the Land of Lincoln but benefits independent grocers as well.

Senate Bill 850 Illinois Grocery Initiative is the “first-of-its-kind, $20 million investment to open or expand grocery stores in underserved rural towns and urban neighborhoods," Priztker said in announcing the program. 

The initiative will provide wrap-around support to local governments and independent grocers opening grocery stores in food deserts.

"Nobody should have to drive hours to access healthy produce, and the Illinois Grocery Initiative will provide reliable food access to families living in food deserts," saidDepartment of Commerce and Economic OpportunityDirector Kristin Richards. "Investing in new and existing grocery stores will spur economic development in the communities that need it the most."

Up to 20% of program funding may be used for grants for energy-efficient equipment upgrades to existing independently owned, cooperative and for-profit grocery stores.

State Rep. Mary Beth Canty (D-Arlington Heights) not only sees this as an investment in small businesses but said“enshrining this bill into law is a great step towards cracking down on food insecurity and moving Illinois forward.

Other perks for grocers receiving grant support from the Illinois Grocery Initiative include being eligible for the High Impact Business Program to bring down their costs of operations. This includes tax exemptions on utilities and building materials.

When it comes to the fight for food security, it obviously stretches far beyond the Illinois state line. In fact, on a global level, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken chaired a high-level open debate this month on famine and conflict-induced global food insecurity, as the fight for food security around the world continues.

FTC and indies

If you are an independent grocer, a dormant antitrust law called the Robinson-Patman Act is always on your radar. And it seems the obscure law is beginning to take hold within the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and independent grocers are ready for it. Whether the FTC decides to go after big box retailers such as Walmart to drive antitrust enforcement remains to be seen. But let’s not forget that 43 members of the House of Representatives last year called on the FTC to address economic discrimination.

“The antitrust laws were designed to protect against anticompetitive economic discrimination and excessive concentration,” the letter wrote. “For example, the Robinson-Patman Act reflects Congress’ determination that discriminatory treatment among competitors is pernicious and should be prohibited. But current enforcement efforts have failed to address these anticompetitive harms, and judges have inappropriately limited the scope of the law despite clear statutory language. Despite Congress’ broad goals in 1936, the FTC has not brought a case under the Robinson-Patman Act in more than 20 years. …We urge the Commission to make enforcement against economic discrimination targeting small and medium-sized businesses a top priority.”

All grocery retailers, including independent grocers, are surely keeping a close watch on the Kroger-Albertsons merger. And let’s not forget the recent deal by Aldi US to buy Winn-Dixie and Harveys Supermarkets from Southeastern Grocers.

A+ for fighting school hunger

Rounding out this week’s indie news for The Local Checkout is a story out of North Texas. Western Hills High School is fighting student hunger by stocking “Cougar Corner,” a free makeshift grocery store for students who are in need of food. You can check out more on this uplifting story here.



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