SA disputes drug question

GW students are joining others around the nation in fighting a law that strips them of financial aid for past or current drug offenses.

Question 35 on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form asks students if they have been convicted of possessing or selling illegal drugs while over the age of 18 (tobacco and alcohol are excluded). If they leave it blank, aid is delayed. If they have been convicted, aid can be permanently restricted.

On Tuesday the Student Association joined more than 100 student governments around the nation in signing a petition encouraging Congress to remove the question because it unfairly denies students needed funds.

“This law unlike any other law pulls students out of the classroom for minor mistakes,” said junior Sam Mcree, president of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, at the SA meeting. “This law is preventing people from bettering themselves.”

During former President Bill Clinton’s administration, the question was more vague and students often left it blank, leading financial aid offices to assume the student had no conviction, said Daniel Small, director of student financial assistance at GW. But the Bush administration has taken a stiffer policy on the question, forcing students to answer yes or no.

The online FAFSA form no longer allows students to submit a form with a blank question 35.

“The financial aid community does not like it,” Small said, adding that a financially dependent student could lose up to $12,000 in many forms of federal aid including loans, grants and work-study pay.

Sophomore Eric Daleo (U-CCAS) sponsored the bill, which passed 16-5-1.

“Drug use is an illegal action, and this doesn’t prevent people from getting an education,” said SA Sen. J.P. Blackford (G-SEAS), who voted against the measure. “Not every person can attend GW whether or not they are convicted of drug use.”

Some senators voted against the bill because they felt they would be advocating drug use by allowing their taxes to fund rehabilitation, said SA Sen. Maureen Benitz (G-CCAS).

Small said he does not know if any GW student has lost federal aid under this provision yet, but students have left the question blank in the past.

Yale University now reimburses students hurt by the law. While GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said that is not a reality at GW, he said he does not agree with the law.

“I would like to tie it (financial aid) to murder,” he said.

-Russ Rizzo contributed to this report.

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