The HEA Aid Elimination Penalty, introduced by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), has been a thorn in the side of educators, students, and social justice activists across the country since its creation in 1998.
This year, we may see significant reform to this unfair law. A bill has been introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), that if passed, would remove the penalty for students with drug possession convictions. Those convicted of selling illegal drugs will still be barred from receiving financial aid. The bill has already passed a House committee and will go on to the full House following August recess. It is expected to pass the house.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy has been working to repeal this law since the organizations formation. In 2006, SSDP had a great success by scaling back the law’s “reach back” effect, meaning that those with drug convictions in their past were still eligible for aid and those who receive convictions while receiving aid will lose it. Even Congressman Souder, one of the country’s most zealous drug warriors, supported this reform.
Its been a long battle full of both excitement and disappointment for reformers. In February 2008, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Removing Impediments to Students' Education (RISE) Act into the 110th Congress. The bill, which gained substantial support, would simply repeal the aid elimination penalty.
In March 2008, U.S. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) introduced the first ever Senate bill to prevent college students from automatically losing financial aid as a punishment for drug offenses. S.2767 would get rid of the mandatory minimum penalty and allow students with drug convictions to keep aid and stay in school unless a judge specifically ruled they should lose education in addition to other punishments imposed like fines, jail time, or community service.