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Minnesota House approves additional funds to help farmers facing tough times

Mental health counselor Ted Matthews on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, speaks to the House Agriculture, Food Finance and Policy Committee about stress Minnesota farmers face. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — The lone counselor tasked with providing free mental health services to farmers and their families through the Minnesota state college system just got a step closer to getting some help.

The Minnesota House of Representatives on Monday, March 4, unanimously advanced a bill that would appropriate $100,000 to boost mental health counseling for farmers and their families as well as for farm advocate services and farmer-lender mediators.

It would also boost the salary of Ted Matthews, who has worked as the only mental health counselor who could offer state-subsidized services through the Minnesota State Agricultural Centers of Excellence. Matthews would then be able to train others to counsel farmers and their families.

Minnesota lawmakers last year tried to get some money allocated to let the Department of Agriculture bring on more mental health counselors to offer free services in connection with the state college system. But that effort failed as it was wrapped up in a massive omnibus spending bill that former Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed.

The new request to re-route the funding for the Department of Agriculture comes after Minnesota farmers weathered the fifth year in a row of low commodity prices, tariff fights, low yields and inclement weather.

Offering extra funds to bring on additional counselors and farmer-lender mediators could make a meaningful difference for farmers and their families, the bill's author, Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, said.

"The time is now and we need to make sure that we're doing something," Poppe said. "As we get into spring planting and them going to their lenders that they're able to have some additional support."

The measure's companion bill was debated in a Senate committee Monday and was put up for consideration to become part of a larger committee bill later.

Resources for farmers

Mental health and stress management support

Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline - (833) 600-2670, Ext. 1. The helpline is free, confidential and available 24/7. Trained staff and volunteers in Minnesota can help manage stress, anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts.

Mental Health and Family Services Line - 1-800-FARM-AID. Farm Aid works with farm advocates, counselors and hotline operators that can help provide support.

Ted Matthews, rural mental health counselor - 320-266-2390. Matthews works with farmers across the entire state. There is no cost to accessing support from Matthews.

Mental Health Minnesota - text "MN" to 741741. You can text the service to reach mental health crisis responders.

Financial counseling

Free financial counseling from the University of Minnesota Extension. If you or a farmer you know is experiencing financial stress, contact the Farm Information Line at 1-800-232-9077 to set up a financial counseling session.

Minnesota Farm Advocates - "Farmers Helping Farmers" - 1-800-967-2474. Farm Advocates provide one-to-one assistance for Minnesota farmers who face crisis caused by either a natural disaster or financial problems.

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