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Indiana eyes framework to support entities working to eliminate food deserts

The General Assembly's Interim Study Committee on Government unanimously recommended Wednesday that Indiana establish a state fund in the lieutenant governor's office to support businesses and groups working to eliminate food deserts.

INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosier lawmakers appear ready to take at least an initial step toward reducing the number of food deserts across Indiana.

On Wednesday, a legislative study committee unanimously recommended the 2018 General Assembly establish a fund in the lieutenant governor's office to provide grants or loans to businesses and programs that seek to increase the availability of fresh produce and nutritious food in high poverty communities lacking nearby grocery stores.

The panel did not suggest how much money should be put in the fund, where that money might come from or how it would be distributed.

But members of the Interim Study Committee on Government agreed that just creating the account would be a good start.

"We're going to have at least some type of a framework set up so that whether it's state funding in a budget year, federal funding or even grants, we're positioned to actually move forward," said state Rep. Dennis Zent, R-Angola.

State Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, pointed out that Indiana's Sportsmen's Benevolence Fund similarly started as just an open account and now uses money and deer donated by hunters to annually provide more than 200,000 meals to Hoosiers.

The study committee's recommendation does not guarantee legislative approval.

The proposal still must pass both the House and Senate, as well as receive the governor's signature, to become law.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.