Walz, officials highlight importance of mental health, announce $1.2M donation to support Minnesota students

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Created: November 20, 2020 04:58 PM

(ABC 6 News) - Friday, Governor Tim Walz announced that the IKEA US Community Foundation is donating $1.2 million to the state of Minnesota to show appreciation for the state’s support of workers who have been unemployed due to COVID-19. The state will use the funding to support mental health services for Minnesota’s students.

“IKEA’s generous donation serves as a model for how public and private sectors can work together to support Minnesotans,” said Governor Walz. “COVID-19 has exacerbated mental health needs for all Minnesotans, especially our students. This funding will help ensure we can connect our young people with the mental health services they need and deserve.”

Minnesota students increasingly report experiencing mental health problems that impact their lives. In 2019, more than one in four middle and high school students reported feeling depressed or anxious. Mental health affects school attendance, substance abuse, and a likelihood of being involved in the juvenile justice system. Students of color experience mental health distress at higher rates relative to peers, and students who identify as LGBTQ are nearly twice as likely to report mental health problems as students who do not identify as LGBTQ. Research shows that addressing mental health needs early in life improves academic performance, decreases disciplinary encounters, increases graduation rates, and can ultimately lead to lifetime improvements in mental health and wellbeing.

“The mental health of our students has been a priority since we took office, and its importance has only grown amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “During this difficult time, we remain committed to ensuring we provide opportunities for each and every child.”

The funds will provide resources to the School-Linked Mental Health Program, which includes 58 providers covering 1,100 school sites across the state. These providers play a critical role in caring for the health of children and families, especially now helping them cope with the isolation and stress brought on by COVID-19 and distance learning. The program is managed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

“Meeting the mental health needs of students takes special care and attention and that’s been especially true throughout the pandemic,” said Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead. “This generous donation will help schools and mental health professionals improve safety measures so students can safely continue receiving services face-to-face, or when in-person services aren’t an option, to make sure they stay connected to school-linked mental health services through telemedicine.”

“We are appreciative of the ongoing support from the state of Minnesota including the unemployment funds paid to our co-workers who were furloughed in the early weeks of the pandemic,” said Javier Quiñones, IKEA Retail U.S. president. “People are the heart of our business, and the state unemployment benefits helped IKEA US co-workers during a difficult time. We now have a better understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on our business, and we’ve decided to ‘pay it forward’ in our local communities.”

The $1,212,521 the Foundation is presenting Minnesota is equivalent to the amount of money Minnesota paid to IKEA retail workers as unemployment insurance earlier this year. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, IKEA Retail U.S. had to make the difficult decision to close its retail stores. This included furloughing some of the IKEA retail workers for periods of one to eight weeks.

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