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Loan Relief's Big Gap: Criminal Records

Hundreds of thousands of people convicted of drug offenses have had their access to federal financial aid delayed or denied over recent decades, creating a significant gap between the racial-justice goals of President Biden's student-loan-forgiveness program and the reality, the Associated Press reports. When people with criminal records sought a college education after prison, they couldn't get Pell Grants or student loans and often had to take on larger, often predatory, private student loans.


This legacy of the "war on drugs" fell disproportionately hard on Black and Hispanic Americans, the very people Biden's policy targets with its goal to narrow the nation's racial wealth gap. The Pell Grant ban remained in effect for 25 years, until 2020. Now, Pell Grant recipients are eligible for double the debt relief of other income-eligible recipients of federal loan forgiveness. According to a Student Borrower Protection Center report on private loan debt, Black students are four times as likely as white students to struggle in repayment of private loans — that is, if financial barriers didn't prevent them from attending college in the first place. “For people who previously would have had to check that box, there should be some mechanism by which, if you were excluded in the past, you are prioritized now for relief,” said Melissa Moore, the director of civil systems reform at Drug Policy Alliance.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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