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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

A major new rent assistance program will launch next week for Polk County residents who are struggling, Eric Kool, director of Polk's Community, Family and Youth Services told Axios.

The state of play: The Emergency Rental Assistance Program will be paid by a $14 million federal allocation to DSM and Polk County for pandemic relief. It's part of a larger $195 million relief package for Iowa.

The money will be distributed through IMPACT — an organization that helps low-income families in central Iowa. The assistance can help cover:

  • Back rent from April 2020 to present.
  • Future rent for up to three months.
  • Utilities.

The application process will begin Monday via phone, 515-518-4770. Visit the IMPACT website for more details, including eligibility requirements.

  • People who live outside Polk County may also qualify. Go to the Iowa Finance Authority online or call 855-300-5885.

Context: It sounds like a lot of money but the need is massive. Iowans owe at least $36 million in overdue utility bills and $114 million in rent, the Des Moines Register reports.

Of note: This will be the primary rent assistance program in the county for the near future, Kool said.

  • The Justice Center — a temporary pandemic eviction prevention program started last year with Polk County Housing Trust Fund and Iowa Legal Aid — is ending operations this month. (Those groups will guide people seeking assistance to the new program.)

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

Go deeper

Updated Feb 18, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on post-election recovery in Des Moines

On Thursday, Feb. 18, Axios hosted a conversation on the impact of local stimulus in Des Moines and the fallout of the 2020 Iowa caucuses, featuring Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Iowa Democratic Party chair and state Rep. Ross Wilburn.

Sen. Chuck Grassley discussed the Iowa caucuses in advance of the 2024 election, as well as the economic stimulus following the pandemic.

  • His response to some House members' calls to have a more diverse state caucus come first in the 2024 election: "Iowa will be first in the nation with the caucus, and I assure you that that's going to be the case because both the Democratic Party of Iowa and the Republican Party of Iowa want it there."
  • On wanting a more focused COVID-19 stimulus package: "We should target any checks that go out from the federal government to people like we have done twice already... that really have need."

Rep. Ross Wilburn similarly discussed Iowa's place in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election, as well decisions in the Iowa state legislature around the allocation of economic recovery funds.

  • On his view of why it's important for Iowa to be the first state to caucus: "Iowa plays a critical piece in terms of preparing our Democratic candidates for the national stage."
  • On focusing on small businesses in economic recovery: One of the things that we're trying to do in the House is to get access to a business recovery grant program that we're going to invest funds into, I believe, 5,000 small businesses."

Axios Vice President Mia Vallo hosted a View from the Top segment with East Village Spa owner Cassie Sampson and discussed how the small business community in Des Moines has come together in a period of crisis.

  • "I think the most important thing for me with the small business community here is to stay in touch with each other...So really reach out, lift each other up. We need each other and share ideas."

Thank you Facebook for sponsoring this event.

Lawsuits against Des Moines cops could get pricey for taxpayers

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Des Moines, Iowa recently hired three lawyers at $150 an hour to represent police in two high-profile lawsuits alleging misconduct, according to city documents.

Why it matters: Taxpayer costs for litigation and potential settlements in the cases could be significant. And the lawsuits could influence long-running tensions between police and the public.

AllSpice Culinarium in Des Moines is moving to a massive new warehouse

Boxed spice sets from AllSpice in Des Moines. Photo: AllSpice

AllSpice in Des Moines' East Village recorded its "best year" ever in 2020, co-owner Rory Brown told Axios.

What's next: AllSpice is quadrupling its production space and moving to a 4,600-square-foot warehouse in Valley Junction near Fox Brewing and The Foundry this spring.