Americans for Tax Reform joined 23 other organizations in support of the ED ACCESS Act of 2019. The bill would remove the lifetime ban on the American Opportunity Tax Credit for those convicted of a drug felony, enabling more Americans to rebuild their lives through education following a conviction.
You can read the letter bellow and linked to here.
Washington, D.C. 20002
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20002
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Washington, D.C. 20515
RE: Letter of Support for the ED ACCESS Act of 2019
Dear Senators Van Hollen and Portman and Representatives Davis and Schweikert,
We write to express our support for the Eliminating Discrimination and Creating Corridors to Expand Student Success (ED ACCESS) Act of 2019, which would remove the lifetime ban on the American Opportunity Tax Credit for individuals convicted of a drug felony. Since 1998, individuals have been able to claim a portion of qualified tuition, fees, and course materials paid for themselves if eligible, or for an eligible student, in the form of a federal tax credit for the first four years of higher education. However, individuals convicted of a state or federal drug felony have been barred for life from claiming this federal tax credit.
Congress enacted the HOPE Scholarship Tax Credit in 1998, which included the drug felony ban. In 2009, Congress reformed this tax credit and renamed it the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) but retained the drug felony ban.
More than twenty years ago, when Congress first enacted what would become the AOTC, it was believed that forms of punishment like the drug felony ban would reduce demand and supply for illegal drugs. We now know that imposing these kinds of barriers only jeopardizes those with a prior drug felony’s ability to succeed.
For individuals seeking to rebuild their lives following a conviction, education is one of the most valuable tools. Research shows that the more education an individual obtains, the less likely they are to be incarcerated. For the tax code to arbitrarily discriminate against those with a felony drug conviction is nonsensical. It is also inappropriate to address drug policy in the tax code.
The drug felony ban simply amounts to duplicative punishment for individuals who have already paid a debt through prison time, fines, probation, or rehabilitation programs. The ban also disproportionately affects people of color. Although no more likely to use drugs than other students, African Americans are more likely to be convicted of a felony drug law violation that renders one ineligible for the AOTC.
The felony ban also creates confusion that likely deters taxpayers from claiming the AOTC even when eligible. For instance, millions of people across the country are arrested annually for violations of drug laws that vary by state. Possession or distribution of a drug in one state may be a felony while it’s a misdemeanor in another state. Removing the felony ban will make the AOTC fairer, simpler and more effective.
Exclusions to AOTC eligibility do not exist for any other class of crimes. The ED ACCESS Act would simply strike the felony drug offense exclusion from the code in 26 U.S.C. 25A(b)(2)(D) to equalize the law. Thankfully, there is precedent for doing so. The exclusion would have been repealed in a larger reform of education tax credits in the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act, which passed the House in 2013 with bipartisan support.
Congress should remove arbitrary barriers like the American Opportunity Tax Credit drug felony ban that could impede the success of individuals who are seeking to improve their lives and equalize the treatment of this form of tax-based federal student aid.
American Conservative Union
Americans for Tax Reform
Campaign for Liberty
Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
Center for Worker Freedom
College & Community Fellowship
CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants)
Drug Policy Alliance
Health in Action Justice Lab, Northeastern University School of Law
Justice Action Network
Legal Action Center
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Association of Social Workers
National HIRE Network
National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
R Street Institute
Students for Sensible Drug Policy
CC: Senator Jeff Merkley; Senator Ron Wyden; Senator Susan Collins; Senator James Lankford Representative Steven Horsford; Representative Brad Wenstrup; Representative Terri Sewell; Representative Kenny Marchant