Coalition for HEA Reform

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					                Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform
                1623 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 300 Washington, DC 20009
                Voice: (202) 293-8340  Fax: (202) 293-8344
                E-mail: heareform@drcnet.org  Web Site: www.RaiseYourVoice.com

                                                                                            January 13, 2003
The Honorable _______
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Rep: ____:

We, the undersigned, add our voices to those of numerous individuals and organizations calling
for the full repeal of Section 484, subsection r of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended in
the Higher Education Act of 1998 (HEA), that delays or denies federal financial aid on the basis of
any drug offense. Over 92,000 financial aid applicants have been penalized under this law. H.R.
685, introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), would overturn the provision.

We therefore urge Congress to pass H.R. 685 or equivalent legislation as soon as possible.
Partial reforms exempting small numbers of applicants from the law’s impact are laudable
but do not address the extremely serious education and discrimination concerns that we
have.

These concerns are numerous. First, drug convictions are not a germane criterion for the
educational assistance process, which is intended to determine financial need and provide
assistance on that basis. Financial aid is the wrong vehicle for addressing social goals such as
reducing substance abuse.

While the drug provision was designed to prevent drug dealers from setting up shop on campus
with federal funds, it primarily impacts students convicted of minor offenses. The vast majority of
young people convicted of drug offenses are convicted of simple, nonviolent possession (e.g., 88%
of the 734,498 marijuana arrests made in 2000 were for possession1).

While the drug provision was meant to make up for universities that aren’t tough enough on
student drug use, this extra-judicial penalty only applies to students for whom criminal sanctions
have already been imposed. School administrators have the power to expel drug offenders and
federal judges have the power to rescind financial aid eligibility. 21 U.S.C. §862. The current law
eliminates that discretion.

The HEA drug provision is an extra-judicial penalty that negatively impacts poor and middle class
students and prospective students. The vast majority of the students penalized have family
incomes of $30,000 or less.2 Citizens of modest means are more likely to be arrested for minor
drug offenses, less likely to be effectively represented by counsel and more likely to have
educational opportunities foreclosed by a loss of financial aid eligibility than students from
wealthier families.


1
  Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports 2000 (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office,
2001).
2
  USA Today, “Anti-drug law backfires” (April 25th, 2002).
Access to education is essential for young people if they are to enter the mainstream of society and
the economy. Blocking access for those at risk of marginalization is counterproductive for both
the individual and society as a whole. Students who are forced to postpone or interrupt their
pursuit of higher education because of financial hardship are less likely to return to finish their
degrees. By cutting off necessary financial assistance for one or two years, the drug provision
decreases the number of people completing college, diminishing their employment prospects and
potential contributions to our information-age economy.

The ban on eligibility for financial aid is especially punitive in light of the fact that access to
welfare benefits is blocked to anyone with a felony drug conviction. This means the 92,000 poor
women currently affected by the lifetime welfare ban, who support an estimated 135,000
dependent children, are not only being denied income support, but also the loans, grants and work-
study they need to attend post-secondary schools. Of all applicants to student aid programs, these
poor women are the most needy, and they are also disproportionately women of color: 48% are
African American or Latina.3

The HEA drug provision has a racially discriminatory impact. According to reports from the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Justice, people of color
commit drug offenses at a rate proportional to their percentage of the United States population
(Hispanics 12.5% and Black Non-Hispanics 12.6%).4 The rate at which Hispanics and Blacks are
targeted for drug offenses suggests that law enforcement is unfairly profiling suspects by race:
Almost half (46%) of those charged with a drug offense are Hispanic and 28% are Black!5 The
current law thrusts this unresolved racial disparity in the criminal justice system onto the higher
education financing system, disproportionately denying educational opportunities to people of
color.

The current law does allow for reinstatement of eligibility after drug and alcohol treatment,
however accessing treatment services can be extremely difficult. The federal Substance Abuse
and Mental Health Services Administration and the Institute of Medicine have estimated that only
20% of the individuals who need drug and alcohol treatment in any given year receive care.6
Waiting lists in some jurisdictions are six months long. Drug and alcohol treatment services are
scarce because public funding is limited and insurance policies frequently do not cover the cost of
treatment.

Additionally, because treatment programs often take months to complete, and eligibility is not
regained until completion, a student may be forced out of school for a semester or longer because
of lack of financial aid while enrolled in a treatment program -- even though positive
achievements such as good school or job performance are often a barometer of success that the
best drug and alcohol treatment programs employ. Many individuals would be evaluated as
clinically able to attend school while they are enrolled in drug and alcohol treatment; however, the

3
  Patricia Allard, Life Sentences: Denying Welfare Benefits to Women Convicted of Drug Offenses (The Sentencing
Project, February 2002), full report at http://www.sentencingproject.org/news/lifesentences.pdf.
4
  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service National Administration. U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, Preliminary Results from 1997 (1999), pp 13, 58, Table
1A. And K. Jack Riley, Crack, Powder Cocaine, and Heroin: Drug Purchase and Use Patterns in Six U.S. Cities,
National Institute of Justice, United States Department of Justice (December 1997), p. 1.
5
  US Department of Justice, Federal Drug Offenders, 1999, with Trends 1984-99, p. 5, Table 3 (Washington, DC,
August 2001).
6
  Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (2000). Improving Substance Abuse Treatment: The National Treatment
Plan Initiative. (DHHS publication no. SMA-00-3479.) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration. Rockville, MD.
law disqualifies them for financial aid that would help make this important part of their treatment
and recovery possible. Additionally, after assessment by a qualified addictions specialist, some
individuals would be evaluated as not needing drug and alcohol treatment services. Under current
law, these individuals have no way to re-qualify for financial aid through other rehabilitation
services during the disqualification period and miss valuable school time.

Substance abuse among our young people is a serious national problem, but blocking the path to
an education is an inappropriate response. Closing the doors of our colleges and universities,
making it more difficult for at-risk young people to finish college and succeed in their goals, is not
a policy fit for an advanced society such as ours.

We call upon members of Congress to stand up for access to education for all Americans by fully
repealing Section 484 subsection r of the Higher Education Act that delays or denies federal
financial aid on the basis of any drug offense.

Sincerely,

The Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform:

National Organizations                                 Police Officers for Drug Law Reform
American Association of People with Disabilities       Public Justice Center
American Civil Liberties Union                         Rainbow-PUSH Coalition
American College of Nurse-Midwives                     Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice               Unitarian Universalist Association
Center for Women Policy Studies                        United States Student Association
Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants      Women’s Law Project
Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism
Common Sense Legislative Group
Drug Policy Alliance                                   State/Local Organizations
Drug Reform Coordination Network                       Alliance for Reform of Drug Policy in Arkansas
Family Watch                                           Alliance for Recovery through Medicine of
Family and Corrections Network                         Massachusetts
Friends Committee on National Legislation              American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska
Human Rights and the Drug War                          American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights                  Dayton Urban League (OH)
Legal Action Center                                    Drug Policy Education Group (AR)
Marijuana Policy Project                               Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii
NAADAC, The Association for Addiction                  Drug Policy Forum of Texas
         Professionals                                 Efficacy (CT)
National Alliance of Methadone Advocates               New Mexico Drug Policy Foundation
NAACP                                                  New York Civil Liberties Union of Nassau County
NAACP - Youth and College Division                     North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Association for Public Health Policy          ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy (NY)
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers       Urban League of Chicago
National Association of Student Financial Aid
         Administrators
National Black Police Association
National Council of La Raza
National Education Association
NORML
National Partnership for Women & Families
National Women’s Health Network
November Coalition
Open Society Policy Center

				
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