Picture of the Des Moines skyline with DSM written across it.
Feb 12, 2021

Axios Des Moines

It's Friday, and Valentine's Day weekend, and a long weekend (thanks, George Washington)!

  • 🐮💕 One romantic idea: The 2021 Iowa Beef Expo begins this weekend.

🚨Vaccine alert: Polk County is opening appointments here at noon today.

Situational awareness: Roughly 65% of DMPS students are going back to classrooms full-time on Monday.

Today's Smart Brevitycount is 944 words, a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Axne sees last chance for local COVID aid

Rep. Cindy Axne during an interview in Washington, D.C. in 2019. Photo: Melissa Lyttle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The upcoming COVID-19 stimulus package is likely the last chance for Iowa's local governments to get federal relief, Rep. Cindy Axne (D) told Linh.

Why it matters: The state's cities and counties are losing millions in tax revenue and municipal fees, as everything from hotel bookings to park shelter rentals have dropped due to the pandemic.

  • Des Moines city officials estimate COVID-19 cost them at least $25 million in revenue over FY 2021.
  • Stimulus money could cover lost income and soften additional expenses, like rental assistance, City Manager Scott Sanders told WOI-TV.

The state of play: House Democrats support $350 billion for states and municipalities, but Republicans say they don't want to reward poorly managed governments, according to PolitiFact.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expects the House bill to pass before the end of the month, CNBC reports.

What she's saying: Further negotiations are ahead as people anxiously await relief, but Axne said she will stand by including local aid.

  • "The fact that we haven't got it in any bill so far, to me, indicates that this really is the last time we're going to be able to focus on this and we've got to make sure it's a priority."
☀️ Bonus: Axne's morning routine

Rep. Cindy Axne stops in at Mahalo's Coffee and Mini Donuts in West Des Moines in October. Photo courtesy of Axne's office

Axne admits she's not really a morning person and, if she had things her way, her work schedule would go from 10am to 8pm.

  • "I stay up late. That's just who I am. I get up and do it with the best of us, but I'm definitely a night person."

Here's how Iowa's 3rd District rep starts her day:

  • ⏰ Wake-up: 7am. "On a good day."
  • 🍳 Breakfast: "A strong cup of black coffee, right out of the gate. And a big old bowl of oatmeal, you know, with all the fixings."
  • 📱What she's reading: "Right away, like too many Americans, I'm picking up the phone and really going through all of my work for the day already. ... Then I look at the news."

📣 Weigh in: Whose morning routine do you want to read about? Reply to this email and nominate someone.

2. Pandemic pains mean rent assistance is going unused

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

There are roughly 200 rent vouchers for poor families going unused each month in DSM because of administrative headaches linked with the pandemic, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Low-income families have been hit hardest by pandemic-driven shutdowns, per the Pew Research Center. They need this help now more than ever.

The state of play: More than 3,200 low-income families in Des Moines receive Section 8 vouchers, a $15 million program administered by the city.

  • But the city has been unable to quickly process new applications as other families leave the program, leaving vouchers unfilled.
  • More than 500 families remain on a waiting list.
  • The average monthly assistance is $455.

What's happening: The city’s housing agency is located at Polk County River Place, a government building that has been closed to the general public throughout the pandemic.

  • The agency’s office is still open, but sees clients by appointment only.
  • Applicants are required by federal rules to watch a two-hour presentation. An online option wasn’t available until recently.
  • And staffing crunches have contributed to delays. Four of the office's five staffers were absent at one point in recent months for COVID-linked reasons.

What's next: City housing staffers are trying to ramp up the program, but a lot depends on pandemic recovery. They’re currently filling about around 20 a month.

3. Streets returning to nature
Data: City of Des Moines; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Persistent flooding in the east side of DSM resulted in government mitigation programs to help protect residents from future disaster.

  • As a result, entire blocks of housing have been demolished in recent years.

What's happening: Streets are being closed as part of a 450-acre habitat restoration effort launched by Polk County Conservation.

  • The city council approved the vacations this week.

What's next: Public meetings about road removals, wetland and prairie plans will be held by conservation officials in the next few months, though nothing is set yet.

4. 🍜 Why DSM's pho scene is so big

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Pho is about as classic as a pork tenderloin sandwich in Des Moines' culinary scene.

  • 🐂 The Lunar New Year starts today, so it felt like a great time to explore the history of our Vietnamese restaurants.

How it started: Between 1975 and 1979, former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray started a program to resettle Southeast Asian refugees following the Vietnam War, per Iowa PBS.

  • Iowa had one of the largest settlement populations at that time after thousands of refugees moved here, according to the AP.

Why it mattered: Opening a restaurant was a means for survival, especially for families who knew little to no English, according to Nu Huynh, executive director of the Iowa Asian Alliance.

  • "It was a, 'Hey we need income, we need something stable, and what are we good at? What can we do? We're good at cooking food,'" Huynh explained.

Since then, local favorites like Pho All Seasons, Pho 888 and A Dong have shined.

  • Simultaneously, DSM's Southeast Asian population has grown.
  • In 2018, 87,708 Iowans identified as Asian. 15% were Vietnamese, and the majority lived in Polk County, according to the Iowa Data Center.

The state of play: Second and third generations are continuing to open new restaurants and put their own trendy spin on food, Huynh said.

  • At least 14 Vietnamese restaurants cook up food in Des Moines, with new places like Pho Real offering late-night eats and a bubble tea bar.
5. ❄️ Brrrrrrrr: You chose to live here
Data: National Weather Service; Chart: Axios Visuals
6. 1 fun thing: Pandemic eBook picks

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Y'all checked out 262,509 eBooks or eAudiobooks from Des Moines Public Library in 2020, library staffers told us.

  • By the numbers: That’s up more than 40% from the previous year, as physical circulation plummeted about 50%.

Top eBooks:

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  2. How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  3. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  4. The Huntress by Kate Quinn
  5. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Top eAudiobooks :

  1. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
  2. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
  4. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
  5. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

❤️ Have a good weekend and thanks for subscribing!

  • Linh will be spending Galentine's here.

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