Currently, on the FAFSA, applicants are asked if they have ever been convicted of any drug offense. If the answer is anything other than "no," even if it was a petty drug offense, the applicant's eligibility for federal financial aid is stripped until he completes an approved drug rehabilitation program or passes two random drug tests administered by an approved program.
As a result of this requirement, tens of thousands of poor and middle-class students are denied aid for school until they fulfill the often expensive requirements. Without financial aid or a way to pay for the approved programs, many of these students are forced to drop out of school. Having to leave school hurts their life chances and increases the likelihood of recidivism.
These students have already paid their debt to society, but they are penalized yet again by this unfair and unnecessary requirement.
Statistics and common sense tell us that it is bad policy to deny kids education if we want to reduce drug abuse and encourage young people to become successful. We can all agree that preventing drug abuse among young people is a worthy goal, but we should not pursue that goal through unnecessary collateral consequences. Closing our colleges and universities to poor and middle-class students will not prevent drug use, but it may harm their life chances.
That's why we must remove this unfair collateral consequence on the FAFSA application. Students should not be required to pay twice for their crimes and no petty drug offense should prevent a student from reaching her fullest potential.
Summary of the SUCCESS Act
Congressmember Bass introduced the "Stopping Unfair Collateral Consequences from Ending Student Success Act" (SUCCESS Act) to tackle this problem by repealing the law that denies students access to federal financial aid and college.
Specifically, this bill repeals Section 484, Subsection R of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Subsection R is the statutory authority for Question 31 on the FAFSA which asks an applicant to indicate if he has been convicted of a drug offense. Even President George W. Bush's undersecretary of higher education said this law was unnecessary.
If passed, this bill will reduce recidivism, over-criminalization, and tax-payer burdens by stopping the suspension of federal financial aid aid for students who want to get their lives back on track.
The bill was introduced on November 15, 2013.
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