Pubdate: Sat, 29 Dec 2001
Source: Contra Costa Times (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Contra Costa Newspapers Inc.
Author: Arlene Levinson, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)


Efforts to ease a ban on federal financial aid for college students
with drug convictions have reached an impasse.

So far this school year, more than 43,000 would-be college students
face the possible denial of financial aid under a law passed in 1998.

The chief lobbying group for colleges and universities would like the
ban repealed, as would students on nearly 200 campuses who have
organized to fight it.

Federal officials said they had hoped to ease the ban through
administrative action but could not find a way. They said it is up to
Congress instead to amend the law.

"We looked in every nook and cranny," Education Department spokeswoman
Lindsey Kozberg said.

The department reads the law as saying anyone with a prior drug
conviction may be ineligible for aid.

But Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., the author of the law, said the Bush
administration is being tougher on applicants than he intended. He
said he wanted the ban to apply only to students already getting
federal aid when convicted.

Souder's staff met repeatedly this year with Education Department
officials to try to bring enforcement in line with what he says
Congress intended. Earlier this month, the government told Souder it
couldn't do it.

In reply, the congressman accused the Bush administration of a "simply
shocking" defiance of Congress and threatened to hold oversight hearings.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., already has introduced repeal legislation.
But when Congress might take up the issue is unclear, especially with
the country engulfed in the war on terrorism.

The ban involves a small fraction of the more than 10 million people
who annually fill out the application for federal grants, work-study
money or U.S.-subsidized loans.

Question 35 asks: "Have you ever been convicted of possessing or
selling illegal drugs?" Those who answer "yes" get a second worksheet
asking for details.

For a first drug-possession offense, ineligibility lasts a year after
conviction; for a second offense, two years. More convictions bar aid
indefinitely. But a single drug sale conviction means no aid for two
years afterward; more convictions and the ban lasts

Those facing loss of aid indefinitely can, however, get that lifted by
undergoing drug rehabilitation. 
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