Monday, May 15, 2006

SSDP spreads the word in the mainstream press

The Los Angeles Times has a story on the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty and SSDP's recently released state-by-state report. The piece opens with the ordeal Marisa Garcia had to go through after being convicted of a minor drug offense.

After Marisa Garcia was busted for possessing a pipe with marijuana residue, she pleaded guilty, paid a $415 fine and thought she had paid her debt to society.

She was wrong: When she applied for federal financial aid to attend Cal State Fullerton, she learned she was ineligible because of the misdemeanor conviction.

"I was thinking I made this horrible mistake which is going to ruin my access to education," said Garcia, 25, of Santa Fe Springs. The sociology major's mother is refinancing her home mortgage to help pay Garcia's fees . "You've already been punished and now you get punished twice … and I don't think that punishment is benefiting anyone," Garcia said.

She is among hundreds of thousands of students denied federal student aid or who didn't apply for it because drug convictions made them ineligible under a 1998 amendment to the Higher Education Act intended to deter student drug use.
The piece also quotes SSDP, the ACLU, and Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), chief sponsor of the Removing Impediments to Students' Education (RISE) Act, which would fully repeal the Aid Elimination Penalty.
"Students are absolutely outraged that our access to education is being lost as collateral damage in the drug war," said Tom Angell of the Washington, D.C.-based Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which has lobbied Congress to repeal the measure and is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education.


"It's kind of symptomatic of people treating drugs in an excessive, almost histrionic fashion, where drugs are treated worse than murder and rape," Frank said. "Why single drugs out as worse? Why penalize poor people as opposed to rich people?"


"This law doesn't deter drug use. It deters education," said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project in Santa Cruz. "Funding education is one of the smartest uses of tax dollars. If students stay in college, they have a far greater chance of becoming productive, tax-paying members of society."
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