CHICAGO
07/13/2011 03:58 pm ET Updated Sep 12, 2011

Food Stamps At Illinois Farmers Markets On The Rise, Lt. Governor Wants More

Swipes of the LINK card that holds Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program dollars -- what used to be food stamps -- are up at farmer's markets across the state of Illinois, making it second only to California in the number of markets that accept food-stamp benefits.

Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon, a leader on the issue, is pleased with the development, and is working on plans to accelerate the availability of locally grown foods to low-income shoppers.

"Everyone is a winner when we focus on local foods," she said, according to the Pantagraph of Bloomington, Illinois. To wit: buyers get to eat healthier. Small farmers get a much-needed financial boost. And the local economy, in a state that is extremely fertile but still only buys four percent of its food from within Illinois, also sees benefits. Every dollar spent on local foods is worth $1.34 to the local economy, Pantagraph reports.

The amount of LINK spending was up nearly four-fold from 2009 to 2010, but still stands at a paltry $41,000, according to the Associated Press. Forty-nine markets in the state now accept the benefits, out of a total of more than 300.

But Simon has a plan to expand LINK access. Last year, the state legislature passed a law creating a program to help markets and farmers purchase the swiping machines and other equipment required to process the LINK cards. The program wasn't funded, though, according to WBEZ. Now, Simon is looking at non-governmental agencies and private corporations to help fund the initiative.

For now, Simon can only hope that the trend from last year continues in the summer of 2011.