Pubdate: Tue, 18 Oct 2005
Source: Massachusetts Daily Collegian (MA Edu)
Copyright: 2005 Daily Collegian
Contact: 413-545-1592
Note: Publication of University of Massachusetts
Author: Chris Yonker


ATHENS, Ohio - 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

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

"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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