|IV. REPEAL THE FINANCIAL AID BAN FOR STUDENTS WITH DRUG CONVICTIONS|
Summary of the Problem: In 1998, Congress reauthorized the Higher Education Act (HEA), which funds educational financial aid for students. During consideration of the HEA, Congress approved an amendment to the legislation that delayed or denied federal financial aid for students convicted of a drug offense. Students applying for federal financial aid are asked on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form whether they have ever been convicted of "possessing or selling illegal drugs." If an applicant answers anything other than "no," the applicant is required to fill out a worksheet to determine if and when the applicant will resume eligibility for federal student financial aid. It is estimated that over 128,000 students applying for federal financial aid have been denied assistance because of this provision.
In February of 2006, legislation signed into law by President Bush that partially addresses this student aid provision. Public Law 109-171 partially repeals the ban on student federal financial aid for persons convicted of drug crimes so that only students who are convicted of a drug offense while they are in school and receiving federal financial assistance will be affected by the ban. By continuing to cut off necessary financial assistance, this provision decreases the number of people completing college, thus diminishing their employment prospects and potential contributions to the economy. For individuals who are eligible for aid since their conviction was previous to their enrollment, the question about drug convictions remains on the FAFSA form and potentially discourages thousands of these individuals from applying for financial aid because of the uncertainty about their eligibility.
Access to education is essential if individuals are to participate successfully in society and the economy. The ban on financial aid for individuals with certain drug convictions should be completely repealed to remove these barriers.
Legislative Changes: Pass legislation to fully repeal the aid elimination penalty from the Higher Education Act.
Legislative Branch: House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
Legislative Branch: Congress reauthorized the Higher Education Act in August 2008 but failed to fully repeal the aid elimination penalty for drug offenses in the bill. The bill did contain a provision that makes it slightly easier for students to get their aid back more quickly once they have lost it. Students can get aid back early by passing two unannounced drug tests administered by an approved rehabilitation program. Students will not necessarily have to complete a full, expensive treatment program as previously required. The new HEA bill also requires institutions of higher education to notify their students, upon enrollment, that the financial aid penalty exists for drug offenses. Moreover, schools must notify those students who lose their aid how they can go about getting it back.
Potential Allies, Potential Opposition, and Public Opinion:
Potential Opposition: "Tough on crime" lawmakers who do not understand the intersection between education and reduced rates of recidivism.
Public Opinion: In 2006, Zogby International conducted a poll for the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, entitled Public Attitudes toward Rehabilitation and Reentry. According to that poll, 83% of Americans believe access to student loans is important to a person's successful reintegration back into society after incarceration.
For Further Information:
Visit the Students for Sensible Drug Policy website at: http://ssdp.org/campaigns/hea/.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 17:05|