Drug conviction affects aid eligibility

Last Friday, a bill proposed to prevent college students who are convicted of intent to sell illegal drugs from receiving state financial aid in the Wisconsin State Assembly.

AB 1035 passed with a bipartisan majority, Rep. Eugene Hahn, R-Cambria, lead author of the bill, said.

“The bill and issue have been present in the past,” Hahn said. “I just pushed it through.

There is never enough money for each student that needs it, and if someone has been convicted with the intent to sell or distribute illegal drugs, there’s no way they should receive financial aid.”
According to a press release from Rep.

Hahn’s office, under this bill, a college student who is convicted of possessing drugs with the intent to sell would no longer be eligible for financial aid for two years.

However, the ban would be dropped if that student was convicted when they were not in college or if they complete a drug rehabilitation program.

“There is definitely incentive for those students who deal to stop and get clean,” Hahn said. “We try to be tough on drugs, and under this bill, students that are running straight and narrow will benefit.”

Director of Financial Aid at UW-Eau Claire Kathy Sahlhoff said the bill mirrors the federal legislation preventing current students with drug convictions from receiving financial aid.

Sahlhoff is also co-chair of the State Issues Committee for the Wisconsin Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (WASFAA), a group that lobbied against passing the bill altogether, she said.

“Eau Claire policy follows federal rules on financial aid for drug convictions,” Sahlhoff said. “At first, the FAFSA rules said that if a student had been convicted as an adult before college, that student could not receive federal aid. Now, the question only pertains to students already in college,” she said.

Financial aid groups around the country are working steadily to get the question dropped completely from the form, Sahlhoff said.

The state Legislature was also harsher at first, she said, but the State Issues Committee and WASFAA lobbied to make it more lenient.

“Our first stance was that we didn’t want to the bill to be passed at all,” Sahlhoff said. “If a student has paid their dues to society and the law, they should be allowed financial aid. Plus, a student who has been convicted of robbery, a sex offense or some other crime is still able to receive financial aid, which doesn’t make much sense.”

In an official statement from WASFAA on the bill, the group also states as one of its primary concerns about the bill, “the root cause of many underlying social problems that predispose students to drug abuse may well be the lack of education . By denying these students financial aid, we may be contributing to the problem of drug abuse, not helping to solve it.”

Sophomore Frances Oakgrove, who receives state and federal financial aid, echoed Sahlhoff’s position.

“I think drug dealers shouldn’t just be let off the hook, but it’s unfair to just target them,” she said. “There should definitely be restrictions and specific guidelines for anyone who commits a serious criminal offense.”

AB 1035 is now moving to the state Senate, where an identical bill (SB 187) is waiting to be approved by the Committee on Higher Education and Tourism, according to the press release from Hahn’s office.

“People are being turned down who really need the money for college,” Hahn said. “There are people who are getting that money and are dealing illegal drugs, and that’s not right.”