Nov 21, 2022 - News

Program allows LINK use at Illinois restaurants

Illustration of a hands holding a fork and knife next to an empty plate sitting on an American dollar

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Most Illinois SNAP funds can be used only for cold food, which excludes restaurants and things like a hot rotisserie chicken from the grocery store.

  • But those rules got tweaked for some users last spring.

What's happening: Illinois joined six other states trying out a program allowing elderly and disabled users of the federal food assistance program to use their credits at participating restaurants.

  • WBEZ reported last month that one JJ Fish & Chicken location on the South Side was seeing about 1,000 customers a week using LINK — the Illinois name for the federal program, previously known as food stamps.

Zoom in: Six Chicago restaurants are currently enrolled: BJ's Market & Bakery, Doughboy's Chicago, Firehouse Bakery & Grill, JJ Fish & Chicken, S2 Express Grill, and Ocean Wave Soul & Seafood.

  • Illinois Department of Human Services officials say they can't release data on how much has been spent in the program so far.

What they're saying: "While the program is young, initial results indicate that the Restaurant Meal Program will bring crucial meals to IDHS customers and support participating restaurants," IDHS spokesperson Marisa Kollias tells Axios.

The other side: Cornell University nutrition professor Angela Odoms-Young (formerly of UIC) told WBEZ that she worries about the sodium in some offerings at the restaurants.

  • She favors a previous SNAP program with incentives to purchase produce.

What's next: IDHS officials say they're looking for more restaurants in South Side ZIP codes 60619, 60620 and 60628 to apply.

  • They'll be collecting metrics for an assessment next year.
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