After a full 10 years of contacting representatives, gathering signatures, writing articles, and spreading the outrage, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, along with hundreds of supporting organizations was sure their determined efforts would finally pay off and that Congressional leadership would follow through with their pledge to repeal the counterproductive Aid Elimination Penalty of the Higher Education Act. However, we have yet again been terribly deceived.
If you’ve ever wondered why you’re asked about drug offenses when applying for federal financial aid through FAFSA, thank Representative Mark Souder (R-IN), who somehow managed to slip the AEP into the Higher Education Act in 1998 without any debate or vote. Since then, this amendment has denied over 200,000 students federal financial aid, and in turn access to education. While we assume the reasoning behind Souder’s action was that he thought it would decrease drug abuse, it’s done the exact opposite by forcing students to drop out of school, therefore increasing their risk of drug abuse and criminal activity.
Regardless of the penalty's intentions, it has blatantly attacked hard-working students, people of color, and the lower and middle class. Since the FAFSA already requires satisfactory academic progress in order for a student to be eligible for federal financial aid, the AEP only affects hard-working students who have been doing well in school. While African-Americans make up a fairly small portion of the population, racial profiling leads to an absurdly disproportionate higher number of African-Americans arrested for drug offenses. And since middle and lower class families are depending solely on financial aid, it’s easy to see why wealthy families may not be too concerned.
Many members of Congress who were on our side initially have informed us that they became terrified of facing negative attacks, fearing they’d be labeled as “pro-drug”. In reality,it is precisely the Aid Elimination Penalty they are supporting that continues to increase drug abuse and decrease education. Anybody who is against racial profiling, increasing drug abuse, and decreasing education should be against this penalty. Please fill out this pre-written letter and demand an explanation from your local legislators! Unless they hear from their constituents, they won’t realize what their people want and will continue to follow their misguided instincts.