By Tommy Wiita

Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith announced Tuesday that the Minnesota Department of Human Services has received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support mental health care. 

According to a release, the grant will provide access to mental health and addiction services to about 6,600 people with mental illness and substance use disorders who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"As we continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, we must focus not only on physical health, but also on mental health," Klobuchar said. "This federal funding will promote recovery and healing by ensuring Minnesotans have access to the services they need."

Klobuchar has been a strong advocate for increasing access to mental health and substance use disorder services during the pandemic. In February, she and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the Coronavirus Mental Health and Addiction Assistance Act, which would direct the HHS secretary to establish a Coronavirus Mental Health and Addition Assistance Network to award grants to help initiate and expand mental health and substance use disorder services. 

These grants would go to eligible entities offering appropriate mental health and addiction services, including Indian tribes, qualified nonprofit organizations and health care providers. 

"We need more understanding for Minnesotans who experience mental illness, and we have to make mental health resources available to everyone," said Smith. "This is especially important during the pandemic. I've shared my own story with depression because I want anyone who may be suffering to know they are not alone, and that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. This federal grant will help make a difference in Minnesotans' lives. I'll keep pressing to destigmatize mental illness and direct federal dollars to expand access to mental health care in Minnesota."  

In addition, Klobuchar also partnered with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) to introduce the COVID-19 Mental Health Research Act. This legislation would authorize funding to study the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of Americans, including health care workers, children and adolescents, older adults and members of racial and ethnic minority groups. 

Smith is also a fierce advocate for mental heath care. She shared her own mental health journey from the Senate floor and again in a Twitter thread as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, in hopes, she said, of breaking the stigma around mental health and working to expand access so Americans get the help they need. 

Smith introduced the Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act to expand access to mental health care in rural areas and communities of color. Recognizing the importance of access to mental health care for young people, Smith also introduced the Mental Health Services for Students Act to help schools partner with local mental health providers to establish on-site mental health services for students. 

In addition to those two proposals, Smith also introduced the Native Behavioral Health Access Improvement Act to help Tribal communities in Minnesota and across the country support people who are struggling with mental health issues or substance use disorders. She also secured additional funding for emergency community-based funding for mental health and substance use disorder treatment services in the American Rescue Plan Act, which included her Emergency Support for Mental Health Services Act and her Stopping the Mental Health Pandemic Act.