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The 2016 spending bill just passed. Good news: Funding for NASA. Bad news: CISA.

The must-pass piece of legislation has some tricks up its sleeve.

Congress passed House Speaker Paul Ryan's $1.1 trillion government spending bill on Friday.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.


The 2,000 page bill, known as "the omnibus," was a massive undertaking that will fund the government through most of 2016, and it comes just in time to prevent a government shutdown. It took a lot of work and a lot of compromise to pull together, and the good news is, there's actually some pretty cool stuff in there.

Like, NASA getting more funding, for one.

After NASA's funding was famously slashed to a paltry $17 billion in 2013, this time around, the government has set aside over $19 billion for the organization to further develop its exploration programs.

The omnibus also includes new, extended health care coverage guarantees for 9/11 first responders, which former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart has been campaigning for.

There's also some money for the upcoming census and the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, aka CISA, which is ... wait, what's that?

Oh that's right.

The controversial government surveillance bill known as CISA has been tactfully snuck in.

Those congressional rascals.

The full text of the CISA, which passed the Senate in October, apparently appears 1,729 pages into the omnibus spending bill. Meaning it is now one giant step closer to the president's desk.

So what exactly is CISA?

Officially, it aims to "improve cybersecurity in the United States through enhanced sharing of information about cybersecurity threats, and for other purposes."

Essentially, it would allow the government to access Internet traffic information from companies without a warrant.

It's been hugely controversial since it was first introduced in 2014. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) called it "a surveillance bill by another name," and many others have touted it as a bill that invades the privacy of Americans for somewhat vague security reasons.

Sen. Ron Wyden, a notable CISA critic. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

The version in the omnibus is even worse than the original.

Key provisions that prevented direct information sharing with the National Security Agency have been stripped out, and limitations that say the information can only be used for cybersecurity purposes have been removed.

As Evan Greer, director of the activist group Fight for the Future said, "It's clear now that this bill was never intended to prevent cyber attacks."

Due to controversy and criticism, the bill has had a pretty hard time moving ahead so far. Despite passing the Senate earlier this year, tech firms like Apple, Twitter, and Reddit and organizations like The Business Software Alliance and the Computer and Communications Industry Association have all openly opposed it.

Even the Department of Homeland Security, aka the government agency that'd actually be the ones receiving all that Internet data stated in July that CISA could overwhelm the agency with data of "dubious value" while also sweeping away privacy protections.

So how could something like CISA become law?

Good question, me.

The answer is pretty simple. The omnibus spending bill was a must-pass piece of legislation.

It covers almost the entire 2016 spending plan for the federal government and needed to be passed to prevent a government shutdown. Which no one wanted right before the end of the year.


Rep. Paul Ryan (center) with President Obama and Sen. Mitch McConnell. Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images.

So by tucking CISA into the end of the omnibus, lawmakers were able to push it through with little chance of debate. It's pretty darn sneaky. Especially since the bill comes packed with other, positive funding decisions that will get held up or even lost if the spending bill continued to be delayed.

Congress has done this before; it's actually a disturbingly common practice.

Only a year ago, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas) quietly attached a provision to the 2015 funding law that would allow U.S. taxpayers to fund bailouts for banks that trade risky derivatives. You know, the kind that crashed the economy in 2008.

That bill was also passed to prevent a government shutdown.

Rep. Kevin Yoder (center) in Washington. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

There are countless other examples, and if this sounds to you like it should be illegal, well, you're not alone. Unfortunately, the bill to make it illegal would probably have a "Punch Orphans in the Face Act" or something equally horrible attached to it.

The good news is, now that the bill has passed Congress — and was signed by President Obama — NASA will be getting the best funding it's had in years. There's even $175 million set for NASA researches to explore Jupiter's moon Europa. Which, if you haven't heard, is REALLY COOL.

And, hey, since the government is going to be surveilling your Internet, why not encourage them to keep funding the cool stuff? Google the phrase "NASA is awesome" as many times as you can. They'll get the message, I'm sure.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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