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October 2005
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Punishing the Poor

Nice editorial in the Providence Journal about the HEA financial aid provision.

We have many misgivings about the so-called war on drugs. But as long as it is being prosecuted, it should not hurt the drug-taking poor more than the drug-taking rich. Almost every statistic on the subject says that this is the case.

One of the most sordid examples of the unequal treatment is the law that withdraws federal financial aid from students with drug convictions. Because such aid goes mainly to low-income students, the law hits them far harder than their well-to-do classmates. Aid has so far been pulled from 175,000 students, no doubt ending a college education for many people who needed it.

The editorial also stuck it to the politicians who turned their backs on it.

It disappoints us that Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, a member of the committee that marked up the Senate bill, did not respond to pleas (by, among others, University of Rhode Island President Robert Carothers and Brown University President Ruth Simmons) to try to kill the drug provision.

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank has proposed a stand-alone bill that would repeal the law. It has 70 House co-sponsors, but Rhode Island’s James Langevin and Patrick Kennedy are not among them. (Ironically, Mr. Kennedy made news as a teenager for having received treatment for cocaine use; he was not, of course, denied a college education because of it.)

Perhaps Rhode Island’s Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who admitted to cocaine use while a student at Brown, would like to step forward and denounce drug penalties that single out lower-income students.

Any courage out there?

That’s what we need to see more of — political cost for supporting (or failing to change) stupid drug war laws.

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