Pubdate: Wed, 19 Oct 2005
Source: Advocate (CO Edu)
Copyright: 2005 Advocate
Author: Chris Yonker
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)
Bookmark: (Youth)
Cited: Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP)


Fighting Drug Convictions' Effect On Financial Aid

The Students for Sensible Drug Policy has recently called into question a 
provision of the Higher Education Act that bans potential college students 
with drug convictions from receiving government financial aid.

That financial aid ban hurts the drug offender in the long term as well as 
the short term, said campaign Director Tom Angell, because college students 
are less likely to use drugs than high school students. The ban keeps many 
qualified people out of college who otherwise would have graduated and 
contributed to society afterwards, he said.

A report recently released by the Government Accountability Office supports 
Angell's argument.

Since the financial aid ban went into effect in 1998, 175,000 applicants 
who filled out the Federal Application For Student Aid form were denied at 
least one year of federal loans because of their drug convictions. That 
figure does not take into account the number of people who started to fill 
out the form and noticed that they could not receive financial aid if they 
had a drug conviction and did not send the FAFSA form in because of it, 
Angell said.

"This ban greatly hurts our nation's economy," he said.

However, a relatively small percentage of applicants are affected, said 
Laurie Ekstrand, director of homeland security and justice at GAO. The ban 
is not a lifetime ban for those with one or two drug convictions, Ekstrand 
said - it lasts one year for one drug conviction and two years for two 
convictions. After that, the ban turns into a lifetime ban.

Although the report and its information is solid, Ekstrand said, the report 
was not comprehensive.

"We carefully pieced pieces to put our report together," Ekstrand said.

The group could not look at how many drug offenders reapplied for federal 
aid after a one-or two-year ban or of which type of drug offense applicants 
were convicted, Ekstrand said. The information to correlate these and 
denial of financial aid was simply not there, she said.

Financial aid for college is not the only federal benefit that is denied by 
the law because of drug convictions. Offenders also are denied Temporary 
Assistance for Needy Families money, food stamps and federally assisted 
house grants, according to the report.

However, Ohio and several other states chose to opt-out of some bans 
including TANF, food stamps and house grants, leaving only the financial 
aid ban intact.

Congress is in the process of reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, 
Angell said. The reauthorization has passed committee and might be dealt 
with by the end of the month. 
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