Axios Des Moines

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🏀 It's Wednesday and NCAA Open Practice Day at Wells Fargo Arena.

  • See each team that's competing in DSM for free.

😎 Weather: Cloudy with a high near 55°. (Get outside!)

Today's Smart Brevity™ count is 947 words, a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Rising food insecurity

Illustration of a padlock as a bag of groceries

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's been nearly a year since Iowa ended its additional SNAP benefits, but local nonprofits say food insecurity has only worsened in the metro area.

Driving the news: Visits to Des Moines Area Religious Council food pantries have been nearing peak pre-pandemic levels since January and the trend is expected to continue, spokesperson Blake Willadsen tells Axios.

  • 1,614 individuals visited the pantries Jan. 3 — the highest single-day number for the food nonprofit in history.

State of play: At the beginning of the pandemic, Iowa households on SNAP received a monthly average of around $200 in additional benefits.

  • Even prior to that, food pantry visits were increasing year-over-year as families dealt with rising costs of living, Willadsen says.

Yes, but: In an effort to add more employees into the workforce, Iowa chose to leave the program early, ending the additional dollars in April 2022.

  • That led to spikes in food assistance at pantries like DMARC. One in six Des Moines residents went to a DMARC pantry in 2022.

What's next: The demand isn't expected to slow down with inflation, while new SNAP-related bills in the Legislature could create more difficulties for recipients, says Luke Elzinga of DMARC.

  • The Iowa House and Senate are both considering SNAP-related bills that would create more restrictions on who can qualify for food assistance, Elzinga tells Axios.
  • Both bills contain a $15,000 asset limit with exemptions for vehicles.
  • They would also require real-time eligibility verification, which requires recipients fill out paperwork within a 10-day notice if there's an employment change.

What they're saying: "This just adds more administrative hurdles that folks would potentially need to jump through," Elzinga says.

The big picture: Additional SNAP benefits ended in most states at the end of last month.

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2. Iowa's newest ed director

Chad Aldis, Iowa's new education director, starts his job today.

Driving the news: Aldis is joining Gov. Kim Reynolds' administration with a history of support for private school choice and working for charter schools.

Why it matters: Reynolds' priority and political messaging this year has heavily centered around "school choice."

  • She signed into law a new scholarship program that allows families to use their public school allocations to attend private schools, for example.

State of play: Aldis' most recent position was at Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank in Ohio, where he testified in support of creating a private school voucher system in the state.

  • Prior to that, he worked as executive director for School Choice Ohio, as well as the Walton Family Foundation.

Flashback: Former education director Ann Lebo announced she is stepping down this month after serving in her role since March 2020 to "explore other opportunities."

Between the lines: Aldis has no experience teaching or working as a school administrator.

  • Lebo has doctorate degrees in education administration and taught English for 17 years, according to the Gazette.

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3. Garden donor offers another, uncommon palm

A photo of a palm tree.

The palm in the foreground will be removed Monday. Photo courtesy of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

The 70-foot Cuban royal palm at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden that's being chopped down next week might have a natural replacement.

Why it matters: The palm was donated in 2009 by Ron Allen after it outgrew his Iowa City house. He is now growing a Johannes palm, a species that Garden officials believe is uncommon and might accept as a donation later this year.

  • This variety isn't expected to outgrow the dome and would be located in a different spot, spokesperson Maggie Conner tells Axios.

Catch up fast: Garden staffers are removing the Cuban palm because its fronds have reached the top of the dome and could apply enough pressure to damage panels and risk guest safety.

  • Allen offered the new donation after reading our story on Monday.

Flashback: Allen started the Cuban palm from a seed he found in 2005 along a sidewalk in Boca Raton, Florida, he tells Axios.

  • The plant outgrew his home by 2009, when he donated it to the garden.

Of note: Sunday is the last day to see the Cuban palm.

  • The garden is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm; and 6-10pm Fridays through March for Dome After Dark.
  • General adult admission: $10.

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A photo of a palm tree
Ron Allen donated this Cuban palm tree in 2009. Photos courtesy of Ron Allen
A photo of a palm tree.
This Johannes palm is outgrowing Allen's basement and might be accepted as a donation by the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. Photo courtesy of Ron Allen

4. The Ear: Growing only happens when it's raining

Illustration of a cornstalk and two goldfinches silhouetted against a sun and sky in neon colors.

Today's Ear inspiration: "Thunder only happens when it's raining." Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

✈️ A flight was delayed at the DSM International Airport yesterday due to an unruly passenger who was removed from a plane. (KCCI)

A Norwalk woman and her father admitted to placing her baby alive in a trash bag before they disposed of the body in a ditch, according to court records. They are charged with murder. (WHO-13)

🩺 Public school nurse positions could be eliminated under a bill advancing in the Iowa legislature. (Iowa Capital Dispatch)

An Iowa family is warning others against taking kratom, a legal herb supplement, after they say their son died from it. (KCCI)

🏫 The Iowa Board of Regents announced all diversity programs at the state’s universities will be under review and no new DEI programs will be allowed during that time. (The Gazette)

⭐️ Today's headline maker: Susan Collister of DSM.

On the job hunt?

💼 Check out the fresh open positions in the city.

  1. Director of Nursing - Long Term Care at Good Samaritan Society.
  2. Director Referral Center at UnityPoint Health.
  3. Production Operator at Bridgestone.

Want more opportunities? Check out our Job Board.

Hiring? Post a job.

5. 💡 1 bright thing to go: Courthouse lighting

A photo of the Polk County Courthouse.

The courthouse sporting NCAA colors this week. Photo courtesy of Polk County

A courthouse lighting policy is being drafted, Polk County Administrator John Norris tells Axios.

Why it matters: It'll set use guidelines for the multi-colored LED lights recently added to the building as part of a larger renovation.

😿 Spoiler alert: Colors celebrating your cat's birthday probably won't get approved.

  • The lighting is intended to promote civic institutions, holidays, public events or causes of community significance.
  • Applications will likely be limited to businesses and nonprofit groups.

Of note: The county's policy will be similar to one used by DSM to light some of our iconic bridges and the Gray's Lake Park tunnel.

🍀 Our thought bubble: Set them puppies to flashing green all March for St. Patrick's 's Day.

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🧊 Comedian Fortune Feimster added a second show at DSM's Hoyt Sherman Place theater on July 8 after her first one sold out except for single seats.

  • She "got iced" in DSM about a decade ago and has joked that she's nervous to return.

Today's newsletter was edited by Everett Cook and copy edited by Lucia Maher.