For state Rep. Tim Butler, access to wholesome food is part of the fabric of American society. Or it should be.
Butler grew up in Peoria, worked for then-U.S. Congressman Ray LaHood, and later Congressman Rodney Davis. He worked at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, and there he clearly saw the connection between diet and health.
Butler, R-Springfield, was a sponsor of the “Healthy Local Foods Incentives” that passed the state legislature and was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.
The legislation provides $500,000 in state money to double the value of food stamps spent on fruits and vegetables at area farmers markets. The legislation is effective Jan. 1, 2019. Using these state funds to match federal funds will bring $1 million more in revenue to farmers markets in the state.
“At the end of the day, this legislation passed with people working together on both sides of the aisle,” Butler said.
When entire neighborhoods have limited access to healthy food, there are higher rates of diabetes, obesity, hypertension and other diseases.
Research finds that every dollar spent at a farmers market generates $1.80 for the local economy because the money does not leave the area and is spent locally, with a multiplier effect.
Butler has worked on pushing this legislation for several years. He cites the Illinois Stewardship Alliance and other groups for lobbying and advocacy to help legislators on both sides of the aisle understand the economic and health benefits of this program.
“SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program commonly referred to as Food Stamps) is a vital program in our country. It’s not my goal for people to be on SNAP their entire lives, but part of my job as an elected official is to benefit the community. At the end of the day, our job is to help all the people we represent,” Butler said.
The medical costs to society for skyrocketing rates of diabetes, obesity and other diet-related diseases are in the billions of dollars, he said.
Like any program, SNAP needs proper controls and management, Butler said. He does not expect Congress to eliminate the program.