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Capitol Briefs: State money to address food deserts; unemployment at 4.2%; tax season opens

Gov. JB Pritzker is pictured at a grocery store in Springfield.
Illustration by Capitol News Illinois
Gov. JB Pritzker is pictured at a grocery store in Springfield.

Illinois’ Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity announced the application window is open for $3.5 million in funding to help local grocery stores provide fresh foods in areas with limited availability.

The money is a part of an equipment upgrade program in Illinois’ Grocery Initiative – a $20 million program championed by Gov. JB Pritzker last year. The initiative aims to provide aid to areas of the state where a lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, along with other healthy choices, can lead to higher incidences of obesity, cancer, and other negative health outcomes.

Read more: As many Illinoisans struggle with food access, lawmakers consider state grants for grocers

The grants can be used to help replace old equipment with more energy-efficient supplies. This round of funding is intended for existing grocery stores, with additional money for new stores expected to be released soon. Grant information can be found at

December Unemployment

Illinois’ statewide unemployment rate rose to 4.2 percent in December 2023, according to preliminary data from the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

That number, which was not seasonally adjusted, reflects a 0.2 percentage point increase from December 2022. The Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights region was the only one of 14 metropolitan areas that saw its unemployment rate decrease, to 3.9 percent from 4.2 percent.

Rockford and Kankakee claimed the highest unemployment rates, both at 5.9 percent. Bloomington had the lowest at 3.8 percent. Much of the state hovered between four and five percent.

The state, however, reported an increase in the number of jobs in eight regions, accompanied by a decline in five regions. The Peoria region was unchanged year-over-year.

Tax Season 2024

The Illinois Department of Revenue will begin processing 2023 tax returns next week, coinciding with the federal Internal Revenue Service beginning its tax filing season.

“We encourage taxpayers to file electronically as early as possible as this will speed processing. If they are due money back, they should choose direct deposit as that ensures the fastest issuance of refunds,” IDOR Director David Harris said in a news release Thursday.

More than six million returns were processed in Illinois last year, with roughly 90 percent filed electronically through the state’s MyTax Illinois portal.

New this year is an increase in the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which is now 20 percent of the federal EITC and includes additional groups of taxpayers in younger and older age brackets. Volunteer fire and emergency workers also have a new credit, with those that qualify receiving a $500 credit.

The tax filing deadline is April 15.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.