Senators intro bill to repeal lifetime student aid ban for some

WASHINGTON – Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced new bipartisan legislation Tuesday they say would address an injustice for some students wanting to use the American Opportunity Tax Credit for higher education.

The AOTC is the primary tax credit available to students seeking a higher education; however, students with a prior felony drug conviction are permanently ineligible from using the credit.

The senators said this backwards requirement makes it more difficult to ensure successful reentry for those who have served their time, by limiting their ability to advance their education and pursue a career.

The Eliminating Discrimination and Creating Corridors to Expand Student Success Act of 2019 (ED ACCESS Act) would fix this inequity by repealing the lifetime ban.

“Even after serving their sentences, countless Americans face hurdle after hurdle when it comes to reentering society,” said Senator Merkley. “This legislation is an important step forward in clearing one of those obstacles, by putting the American Opportunity Tax Credit in reach so these Americans can receive an education and put themselves on a path to a better life—benefiting them, their families, and all of our communities.”

“Denying opportunity to those Americans who have served their time and want to pursue higher education is wrong, full stop,” said Senator Wyden. “The federal government shouldn’t stand in the way of those seeking a better life. It’s past time to repeal this discriminatory requirement.”

Merkley began working to repeal this ban after meeting an Oregon activist, Morgan Godvin, earlier this year at one of his town halls. Godvin, who is currently a student at the OHSU-Portland State University School of Public Health, is in recovery from heroin addiction and served five years in prison for a felony drug conviction. Godvin is now using her own experience to advocate for resources that will help others to overcome addiction and, for those who have served time, to successfully re-enter society and avoid recidivism.

This legislation is supported by a coalition of over 20 groups, including the Drug Policy Alliance, FreedomWorks, and the NAACP. In addition to Senators Merkley and Wyden, Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Rob Portman (D-Ohio), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and James Lankford (R-Okla.) joined in introducing the legislation. In the House of Representatives, the legislation was also sponsored by Reps. Steven Horsford (D-N.V.), Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), and Kenny Marchant (R-Texas).

The text of the legislation can be found here. A one-pager on the bill can be found here.