A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers are pushing to repeal a Higher Education Act provision that prohibits students with drug convictions from receiving financial aid for college. The Stopping Unfair Collateral Consequences from Ending Student Success (SUCCESS) Act, introduced by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), 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,” says 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.”
In 2006, SSDP succeeded in getting Congress to scale back the penalty 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. Still, this change didn’t go far enough, hence this new proposal.
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.