Illinois unveils tech-fueled plan to reduce hunger statewide

Seventy-three-year-old Dea Checchin (left) and eighty-four-year-old Cathy Ward check in people seeking food handouts at Elijah's Pantry, a church-run charitable organization, on September 10, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker will use new digital tools, including mobile apps, online scheduling systems and digital discount-lunch applications to expand the state’s food assistance programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new technology, along with enhanced innovation collaboration between agencies, is one of three pillars included in a plan to reduce food inequality released by Pritzker last week.

Food inequality has risen to unprecedented levels during the pandemic, according to Kate Maehr, the executive director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. In addition to mobile-friendly applications, the plan calls for improved data-mapping and digital communications from state and local agencies around hunger, which tripled among households with children in Illinois during the pandemic, according to the state.

“Never in our organization’s 42-year history have we seen such a dramatic increase in need,” Maehr, who also serves as co-chair of the Illinois Commission to End Hunger, said in a press release. “This roadmap outlines meaningful steps toward helping the hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents facing hunger every day, particularly Black and Brown communities that are disproportionately affected by food insecurity. We must address racial disparities in order to end hunger.”

The plan calls for innovation across the state’s food distribution channels, specifically for the technology to enable community-based organizations to assist with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, applications, and to collect applicant signatures over the phone. Schools could match their free- and discount-lunch data with SNAP data, according to the plan, so that benefits are more easily transferable.

“This roadmap is not only a blueprint for ending hunger in our state, it is a call to action for individuals, organizations, and policymakers to work on this solvable issue,” Illinois human services Secretary Grace Hou said in the press release. “We have outlined an ambitious strategy to respond to the increased need for food assistance as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and advance solutions that make the system stronger than ever.”

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker, hunger, Illinois
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