Summary: This letter announces that the provision of the HEA related to student eligibility for Title IV financial aid due to drug convictions will not become effective until July 1, 2000.
SUMMARY: This letter announces that the provision of the HEA related to student eligibility for Title IV financial aid due to drug convictions will not become effective until July 1, 2000.
We have received numerous inquiries that ask for our policy regarding the new drug conviction student eligibility provision in the Higher Education Act (HEA). As a result, we are providing this policy guidance while we await the results of the negotiated rulemaking process and the publication of final regulations in this area.
The drug conviction provision constitutes a new student eligibility requirement contained in section 484(r) of the (HEA). It provides that a student's eligibility for Federal student aid is suspended if the student is convicted, under Federal or State law, of any offense involving the possession or sale of a controlled substance (generally meaning illegal drugs, but not including alcohol or tobacco). Any such suspension of eligibility begins on the date of conviction and lasts until the end of a statutorily specified period. The suspension of eligibility ranges from one year to indefinite, depending upon the number and type of convictions. A student may regain eligibility early by completing a drug rehabilitation program that meets certain statutory and regulatory requirements (including two unannounced drug tests), or if the conviction is overturned.
All regulations related to Title IV of the HEA are subject to both the requirements of negotiated rulemaking and the master calendar provisions of the HEA. As a result, final regulations establishing the criteria for acceptable drug rehabilitation programs will be published later this year and will become effective July 1, 2000.
After reviewing the legislative history of the new provision, we believe that Congress intended the drug rehabilitation relief provision to be available at the same time students are subject to the loss of eligibility. Members of Congress specifically indicated in statements on the floor of Congress that students should be able to regain Title IV eligibility if they complete a rehabilitation program. Thus, this new student eligibility provision will not be implemented until regulations defining an acceptable drug rehabilitation program take effect on July 1, 2000. Until that time no student will be determined to be ineligible for Title IV assistance under the new provision.
Nonetheless, a students actions between now and the effective date of the regulations may affect eligibility. For example, a first conviction for possession of a controlled substance on February 1, 2000, will make the student ineligible for Title IV assistance from July 1, 2000 (the effective date of the regulations) until January 31, 2001 (one year from the date of conviction). If the conviction was the second for the student, eligibility would not be regained until January 31, 2002 (two years from the conviction). Because of the serious consequences to some students of the new provision and because there are certain actions that they could take to mitigate those consequences, we encourage, but are not requiring, you to inform your students of the new provision and help them understand how their actions might affect their future eligibility.
Students affected by the new law can avoid a loss of eligibility by completing an acceptable drug rehabilitation program. Because the final regulations defining an acceptable rehabilitation program will be published by November 1, 1999, there will be time for students to enroll in acceptable drug rehabilitation programs before the regulations become effective on July 1, 2000.
We also want to remind you that schools need not actively question their federal student aid applicants about drug related matters. We plan to use the 2000-2001 aid application processes (FAFSAs and SARs) to collect needed information from applicants and to report the results to schools on ISIRs. We have been working with representatives from schools and colleges in our planning of these new and sensitive processes. We will keep all of the financial aid community updated as these plans are developed.
If you have any questions please contact Lloyd Horwich or Edith Bell in our Policy Development Division. Questions and comments can be e-mailed to Lloyd at email@example.com or to Edith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Both can be reached by phone at (202) 708-8242 or by FAX at (202) 708-7196.
We want to thank you for your patience and cooperation as, together, we work to implement this new statutory requirement.
Diane E. Rogers
Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary
D. Jean Veta
Deputy General Counsel