House Committee Approves Amendments To Higher Education Act

Last Thursday, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed two amendments to provisions in the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1998, the law that currently disallows federal financial aid packages to students convicted on drug charges.
In a minor victory for students, the committee approved an amendment to suspend financial aid to students only if they are convicted while receiving aid. The current law calls for the loss of aid for any conviction, regardless if the person was in college or not when the conviction occurred. A first time drug conviction, if the student is currently receiving aid, will still be met with a one year suspension of financial aid. A second conviction will result in two years with no financial aid and after a third conviction, the student will be ineligible to receive financial aid.
The second committee-approved amendment to the HEA is much more damaging. The amendment directs the Department of Education to treat students who fail to answer the drug question on their financial aid forms as ineligible until the question is answered. This year, the Department of Education instructed universities to presume the half million students who left this question blank on their financial aid forms have no drug convictions. The Department of Education has also told universities that they will not be independently verifying the honesty of the students who answered the question. About 3,000 students this year have affirmed on their financial aid forms that they have been convicted of a drug offense.
During the hearing, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced an amendment in the committee to strike the drug provision entirely from the HEA. It was defeated by a 31-16 vote.
“Those who have been convicted of minor drug crimes should not be restricted from college loans when we don’t restrict rapists and armed robbers,” Scott said. “It would seem that getting users into college would reduce drug use. We are fighting a philosophical battle as to whether we will reduce crime rationally or with slogans and rhetoric.”
“Despite the best efforts of Rep. Scott and other fair-minded politicians, Congress appears intent on passing more wasteful and destructive legislation to punish marijuana smokers,” said Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director. “Hopefully, once the public fully understands the excessive scope of this mean-spirited HEA provision, they will demand that Congress eliminate this provision.”
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director at (202) 483-8751.