New Senate Bill Would Reinstate College Aid To Drug Convicts
Hundreds of Thousands Have Lost Access to Education Since Aid Elimination Penalty Enacted in 1998.
WASHINGTON, DC — A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is pushing to repeal a Higher Education Act provision that strips college financial aid from students with drug convictions. The Stopping Unfair Collateral Consequences from Ending Student Success (SUCCESS) Act, introduced by Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) on Thursday, would eliminate the drug conviction question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
“Blocking access to education simply doesn’t reduce drug problems. Education and job opportunities are among our best tools to fight the individual and community-level impacts of drug misuse, so student advocates, civil rights leaders and higher education officials have been pushing to repeal this senseless penalty for almost two decades,” said Betty Aldworth, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), whose hundreds of chapters on college campuses have been working to overturn the aid elimination penalty since the organization’s founding in 1998. “The drug war as a whole is an abysmal failure that causes so many harms to so many communities, and removing college financial aid from the battlefield is a good start. But many more fundamental changes to our nation’s drug policies are still going to be needed even if this bill is enacted.”
SSDP students’ efforts succeeded in forcing Congress to scale back the penalty in 2006 so that it only affected people enrolled in college and receiving aid at the time of their convictions instead of also punishing people with past drug offenses.
Hundreds of major organizations have called on Congress to fully repeal the aid elimination penalty, including the National Education Association, the NAACP, the Association for Addiction Professionals, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the American Public Health Association, the National Organization for Women, the American Council on Education, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church.
Last year, a task force created by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators said the aid elimination penalty is “inappropriate” and “drastically increas[es] the complexity of the application process.” Congress is currently considering a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act as a whole, and advocates hope that language overturning the drug penalty can be included.
The push to eliminate the aid elimination penalty comes amid an emerging bipartisan consensus on broader criminal justice and drug policy reform. Four states and Washington, D.C. have already legalized marijuana, with at least five more states expected to vote on ending cannabis prohibition this November.
By Betty Aldworth, Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s 4,000 members advocate for replacing the disastrous war on drugs with policies rooted in evidence, compassion and human rights. We mobilize from 300 schools around the globe to make change from the campus to the UN because the war on drugs is a war on us. More information is available at http://ssdp.org.free wordpress themes