Sen. Fowler Sponsored Grocery Initiative Grant Opportunities Now Available

On Tuesday, state leaders gathered to announce a new grant program from the Illinois Grocery Initiative. The New Stores in Food Deserts Program will offer competitive grants to encourage the establishment of new grocery stores in USDA-defined food deserts. 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 strong supporter and chief-co sponsor of the Illinois Grocery Initiative, today’s grant funding announcement brings new hope for our food desert communities, ensuring that access to affordable, healthy foods will be close to home,” said Senator Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg). “Communities across our state and in Southern Illinois deserve access to nutritious foods without having to drive long distances to find it. Proper nutrition is essential to sustaining lives and promoting good health and I look forward to seeing this initiative grow.”

Awards can range between $160K to $2.4M, with a 1:3 match requirement from businesses.

Requirements for grocery locations include:

•           Must be located in a food desert,

•           Must earn less than 30% of revenue from alcohol and tobacco sales,

•           Must accept SNAP and WIC, and

•           Must contribute to diversity of fresh foods available in community.

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.

“The State of Illinois is working to combat food insecurity rolling out essential programs such as New Stores in Food Deserts through the Illinois Grocery Initiative,” said DCEO Director Kristin Richards. “Illinoisans deserve to have access to fresh, nutritious food, and this grant program will increase access while bolstering local economies and creating new jobs in historically underserved areas.”

In August, Governor Pritzker signed Senate Bill 850, establishing the Illinois Grocery Initiative to address food deserts across the state with a $20 million pilot program. Through support for existing grocers and incentives for new stores to open in underserved communities, the legislation aims to ensure Illinois residents and families have access to affordable and nutritious food options.

“The truth is: too many people live in food deserts, and it’s contributing to an ongoing public health crisis. As we celebrate the launch of our second Illinois Grocery Initiative grant program today, we aim to support local entrepreneurs and communities as they open new grocery stores in food deserts.” said Governor Pritzker. “This is a first-of-its-kind state government investment — and it will have a significant impact on under-served rural towns and urban neighborhoods dealing firsthand with the struggles of food access.”

The first grant program, the previously announced Equipment Upgrades Program, provides grants for energy-efficient equipment upgrades in grocery stores to prevent closures. In order to support businesses most in need, $3.5M in grant funding will be awarded to chosen applicants: eligible independent-owned grocers with fewer than 500 employees and no more than four grocery stores. Locations in food deserts (defined by USDA) will be given priority. Applications for the first round of this funding are now closed and in review.

To offset rising energy costs for small community grocers, grants will fund:

•           Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment,

•           Refrigeration units and freezers,

•           Lighting systems, and

•           Other systems providing significant energy savings.

To view the competitive Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) and apply for the grant, please visit the DCEO website. Interested parties are encouraged to reach out to for application assistance. To help applicants prepare to apply for funding, DCEO will be holding a technical assistance webinar at 1:30 p.m. on April 17 and at 10:30 a.m. on April 23.

Dale Fowler

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