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United States Government Accountability Office

GAO

Report to Congressional Requesters

September 2005

DRUG OFFENDERS
Various Factors May
Limit the Impacts of
Federal Laws That
Provide for Denial of
Selected Benefits

GAO-05-238

September 2005

DRUG OFFENDERS
Accountability Integrity Reliability

Highlights
Highlights of GAO-05-238, a report to
congressional requesters

Various Factors May Limit the Impacts of
Federal Laws That Provide for Denial of
Selected Benefits

Why GAO Did This Study

What GAO Found

Several provisions of federal law
allow for or require certain federal
benefits to be denied to individuals
convicted of drug offenses in
federal or state courts. These
benefits include Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families
(TANF), food stamps, federally
assisted housing, postsecondary
education assistance, and some
federal contracts and licenses.

For the years for which it obtained data, GAO estimates that relatively small
percentages of applicants but thousands of persons were denied
postsecondary education benefits, federally assisted housing, or selected
licenses and contracts as a result of federal laws that provide for denying
benefits to drug offenders. During academic year 2003-2004, about 41,000
applicants (or 0.3 percent of all applicants) were disqualified from receiving
postsecondary education loans and grants because of drug convictions. For
2003, 13 of the largest public housing agencies in the nation reported that
less than 6 percent of 9,249 lease terminations that occurred in these
agencies were for reasons of drug-related criminal activities—such as illegal
distribution or use of a controlled substance—and 15 large public housing
agencies reported that about 5 percent of 29,459 applications for admission
were denied admission for these reasons. From 1990 through the second
quarter of 2004, judges in federal and state courts were reported to have
imposed sanctions to deny benefits such as federal licenses, grants, and
contracts to about 600 convicted drug offenders per year.

Given the sizable population of
drug offenders in the United States,
the number and the impacts of
federal denial of benefit provisions
may be particularly important if the
operations of these provisions
work at cross purposes with recent
federal initiatives intended to ease
prisoner reentry and foster
prisoner reintegration into society.
GAO analyzed (1) for selected
years, the number and percentage
of drug offenders that were
estimated to be denied federal
postsecondary education and
federally assisted housing benefits
and federal grants, contracts, and
licenses and (2) the factors
affecting whether drug offenders
would have been eligible to receive
TANF and food stamp benefits, but
for their drug offense convictions,
and for a recent year, the
percentage of drug offenders
released who would have been
eligible to receive these benefits.
Several agencies reviewed a draft
of this report, and we incorporated
the technical comments that some
provided into the report where
appropriate.
www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-05-238.
To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Laurie Ekstrand
at (202) 512-8777 or ekstrandl@gao.gov.

Various factors affect which convicted drug felons are eligible to receive
TANF or food stamps. This is because state of residence, income, and family
situation all play a role in determining eligibility. Federal law mandates that
convicted drug felons face a lifetime ban on receipt of TANF and food
stamps unless states pass laws to exempt some or all convicted drug felons
in their state from the ban. At the time of GAO’s review, 32 states had laws
exempting some or all convicted drug felons from the ban on TANF, and 35
states had laws modifying the federal ban on food stamps. Because of the
eligibility requirements associated with receiving these benefits, only those
convicted drug felons who, but for their conviction, would have been eligible
to receive the benefits could be affected by the federal bans. For example,
TANF eligibility criteria include requirements that an applicant have
custodial care of a child and that income be below state-determined
eligibility thresholds. Available data for 14 of 18 states that fully
implemented the ban on TANF indicate that about 15 percent of drug
offenders released from prison in 2001 met key eligibility requirements and
constitute the pool of potentially affected drug felons. Proportionally more
female drug felons than males may be affected by the ban, as about 27
percent of female and 15 percent of male drug offenders released from
prison in 2001 could be affected.
Federal Benefits That May Be Denied to Drug Offenders
Federal benefit

Description

TANF

Cash assistance designed to meet a needy family’s ongoing basic needs

Food stamps
Postsecondary
education
Federally assisted
housing
Denial of Federal
Benefits Program

Food assistance payments to low-income households
Federal Pell Grants, Stafford loans, and work-study assistance
Public housing primarily for low-income families with children and
vouchers for private-market assistance for very low-income families
Federal postsecondary student loans, federal licenses (e.g., for
physicians, pilots, and others), and procurement contracts, among others

Source: GAO analysis of federal law.

United States Government Accountability Office

Contents

Letter

Appendix I

Appendix II

1
Results in Brief
Background
Estimated Number of Drug Offenders Denied Federal
Postsecondary Education, Housing, and Certain Contracts and
Grants Varies by Type of Benefit
State Exemptions to the Federal Bans on TANF and Food Stamps
and Other Factors Affect the Percentage of Drug Offenders That
Would Have Been Eligible to Receive the Benefits
Concluding Observations
Agency Comments and Our Evaluation

17
21
22

Objectives, Scope, and Methodology

24

12

Assessing How Many Drug Offenders Were Estimated to Be Denied
Federal Postsecondary Education and Federally Assisted
Housing Benefits and Certain Grants and Contracts
Estimating the Percentage of Convicted Drug Felons That Would
Have Been Eligible to Receive TANF or Food Stamps and the
Factors Contributing to These Estimates
Data Sources Used in Preparing This Report

26
27

Denial of TANF and Food Stamps Benefits Legal
Framework and Methodologies

30

Legal and Administrative Framework
State Exemptions to the Federal Bans on TANF and Food Stamps
Methods for Estimating the Percentage of Drug Felons Potentially
Affected by the TANF and Food Stamp Bans
Data on the Race of Drug Offenders Who Meet Selected TANF
Eligibility Criteria

Appendix III

3
5

Denial of Federal Postsecondary Education Benefits
to Drug Offenders
Legal Framework for Denying Federal Higher Education Benefits
Administration of the Denial of Federal Higher Education Benefits
Methods for Estimating the Numbers of Persons and Amounts of
Federal Assistance Affected by the Provisions
Estimates of the Numbers and Amounts of Federal Assistance
Affected by Controlled Substances Convictions
Limited Data on the Long-Term Impacts of Denying Federal
Postsecondary Education Assistance

Page i

25

30
32
39
49

51
51
52
53
57
59

GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix IV

Limited Data on Racial Minorities and the Denial of Federal
Postsecondary Education Benefits

61

Denial of Federally Assisted Housing Benefits for
Drug-Related Criminal Activity

62

Legal Framework Relating to the Denial of Housing Benefits for
Drug-Related Criminal Activity
HUD and PHA Roles in Denying Federally Assisted Housing
Benefits for Reasons of Drug-Related Criminal Activities
Number of Denials of Federally Assisted Housing Benefits
Several Factors Can Contribute to the Reported Low Number of
Denials because of Drug-Related Criminal Activities, but
Potential Impacts Are Unclear
Data on the Race of Persons Denied Federally Assisted Housing
Were Infrequently Provided

Appendix V

Appendix VI

Legal and Administrative Framework for the Denial
of Federal Benefits Program

62
64
66

76
77

78

About the Law
Administration of the Law
Use of the Denial of Federal Benefits Program Provisions
Assessing the Impacts of the Denial of Federal Benefits Program
Reliable Data by Race of Persons Receiving the DFB Are Not
Available

78
80
81
83

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments

85

84

Tables
Table 1: Provisions of Selected Federal Law and the Corresponding
Benefits That May Be Denied to Certain Drug Offenders
Table 2: Selected Federal Legal Provisions Providing for Denial of
Benefits to Drug Offenders
Table 3: General Eligibility Criteria to Receive Selected Federal
Benefits and Federal Agencies Responsible for
Administering Programs
Table 4: Number and Percentage of Tenants and Applicants for
Federally Assisted Housing Benefits That Were Denied
Benefits for Reasons of Drug-Related Criminal Activities in
Selected Large PHAs in 2003

Page ii

5
8

10

14

GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Table 5: Status of States on the TANF and Food Stamp Ban as of
2004
Table 6: Types of State Exemptions (Modifications) to the Federal
Ban on TANF, by States within the Types of Modifications,
as of 2004
Table 7: Types of State Exemptions or Modifications of the Federal
Ban on Food Stamps, by States within the Types of
Modifications, as of 2004
Table 8: Number of States in Each TANF and Food Stamp Ban
Status Category and Percentage of Drug Offense Arrests in
2002 Occurring in the States within Each Ban Status
Category
Table 9: Estimated Number of Drug Felons Released from Prison
during 2001, in 14 of 18 States That Currently Maintain the
Ban on TANF
Table 10: Estimated Parental Status of Drug Offenders, by Gender
and Region of the Country
Table 11: Estimated Percentages of Drug Offenders Released from
Prison in 2001 That Met Selected Guardianship and Earned
Income Limits to Receive TANF benefits
Table 12: Periods of Ineligibility for Federal Higher Education
Assistance Based on Type and Number of Controlled
Substance Offense Convictions
Table 13: Data Used to Estimate the Number of Persons Denied
Federal Education Assistance because of Drug
Convictions and Estimated Amount of Federal Assistance
Denied
Table 14: Estimated Number of Persons Denied Federal Education
Assistance because of Drug Convictions and Estimated
Amount of Federal Assistance Affected
Table 15: Evictions from and Denials of Admission into Public
Housing for Reasons of Criminal Activity, Fiscal Years
2002 and 2003
Table 16: Public Housing Lease Terminations at Selected Public
Housing Agencies, by Reason for Termination (Criminal
Activities and Drug-Related Criminal Activities), 2003
Table 17: Housing Choice Voucher Program Terminations of
Assistance at Selected Public Housing Agencies, by
Reason for Termination (Criminal Activities and DrugRelated Criminal Activities) of Assistance, 2003

Page iii

33

35

37

38

42
43

45

52

56

57

67

69

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Table 18: Selected Public Housing Agencies’ Actions Reported on
Applications for Admission and Denials of Admission into
Public Housing for Reasons of Criminal Activities and
Drug-Related Criminal Activities, 2003
Table 19: Housing Choice Voucher Program, Selected Public
Housing Agencies’ Actions Reported on Applications for
Assistance and Denials of Assistance for Reasons of
Criminal Activities and Drug-Related Criminal Activities,
2003
Table 20: Periods of Ineligibility for Which Benefits Can or Must Be
Denied under Section 5301 of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, as
Amended

73

75

79

Abbreviations
ABAWD
ACF
AOUSC
BJA
BJS
DOJ
DFB
ED
EFC
FAFSA
FNS
GED
HCV
HEA
HHS
HUD
INDCP
MASS
NCRP
PHA
PRWORA
TANF
USDA
USSC

Page iv

Able-Bodied Adults without Dependent
Administration for Children and Families
Administrative Office for United States Courts
Bureau of Justice Assistance
Bureau of Justice Statistics
Department of Justice
Denial of Federal Benefits
Department of Education
Expected Family Contribution
Free Application for Federal Student Aid
Food and Nutrition Service
general equivalency degree
Housing Choice Voucher
Higher Education Act
Department of Health and Human Services
Department of Housing and Urban Development
Office for National Drug Control Policy
Management Operations Certification Assessment System
National Corrections Reporting Program
public housing agency
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity
Reconciliation Act of 1996
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
U.S. Department of Agriculture
United States Sentencing Commission

GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

This is a work of the U.S. government and is not subject to copyright protection in the
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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548

September 26, 2005
The Honorable Robert C. Scott
Ranking Minority Member
Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security
Committee on the Judiciary
House of Representatives
The Honorable Bobby L. Rush
House of Representatives
During recent years, several hundred thousand persons per year in the
United States were convicted in federal and state courts of drug offenses
such as felony drug trafficking and misdemeanor drug possession.
Provisions of federal law allow that these convictions may render these
individuals ineligible to receive selected federal benefits. The benefits
include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), food stamps,
federally assisted housing, postsecondary education grants and loans, and
certain federal contracts and licenses. Depending upon the federal benefit,
drug offenders may be prohibited from receiving assistance for periods
that range from 1 year to life.1
You asked us to assess the impacts of these provisions. An important first
step in assessing the impacts is to determine how many people could be
affected by these provisions. The number and the impacts of federal denial
of benefit provisions may be particularly important if the operations of
these provisions work at cross purposes with recent federal initiatives
intended to ease prisoner reentry and foster prisoner reintegration into
society. This report analyzes two interrelated questions about the number
or percentage of drug offenders that could be affected by the provisions:
(1) In specific years, how many drug offenders were estimated to be
denied federal postsecondary education benefits, federally assisted

1

In this report, we use the term “drug offenders” broadly to refer to any person that may be
denied federal benefits under the provisions that allow or require them to be denied
specifically to drug offenders. This term applies whether the offender was convicted of a
felony or misdemeanor drug offense, or whether the offender engaged in a type of drugrelated criminal activity that could nonetheless result in the loss of federally assisted
housing benefits.

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

housing, and selected grants, contracts, and licenses? (2) What factors
affect whether drug offenders would have been eligible to receive TANF
and food stamp benefits, but for their drug offense convictions, and for a
recent year, what percentage would have been eligible to receive these
benefits?
You also asked us to address the impact of federal benefit denial laws on
racial minorities and the long-run consequences of having benefits denied.
The final sections of appendices III, IV, and V in this report include
discussions of the data limitations related to estimating the impacts on
racial minorities. Where information was available, we also identify in the
appendices some of the possible long-run consequences of denial of
benefits.
To estimate the extent to which drug offenders were denied federal
postsecondary education, federally assisted housing benefits, and selected
federal licenses, grants, and contracts, we obtained and analyzed data
from several agencies. We analyzed Department of Education data on
persons who applied for federal postsecondary education assistance such
as Pell Grants and who reported that they had convictions that prohibited
them from receiving federal postsecondary education benefits.2 We
analyzed Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data on the educational
attainment of a nationally representative sample of drug offenders on
probation. From officials at 17 large public housing agencies (PHA) we
obtained information about their experiences in denying federally assisted
housing benefits to persons because of their drug-related criminal
activities.3 We analyzed data on evictions and denials of admission into
public housing that the Department of Housing and Urban Development
(HUD) obtains from PHAs that manage units in the Public Housing
Program. From the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) we obtained data
on persons reported to be denied selected federal licenses, grants, and
contracts by federal and state judges.
To estimate the extent to which convicted drug felons would have been
eligible to receive TANF and food stamp benefits apart from their felony

2

The Pell Grant program provides grants (i.e., aid that does not need to be repaid) to needy
undergraduates.
3

Our review covered both the Public Housing Program and the Housing Choice Voucher
Program. Not all 17 of the PHAs provided responses to all of our questions. Below, we
report data from the PHAs that provided relevant information.

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

drug offense conviction, we obtained and analyzed the most recently
available data compiled by BJS on the familial and economic
characteristics of drug offenders in prison. We analyzed these data to
estimate the number of drug offenders that met selected eligibility criteria
to receive these benefits, and we applied our estimates from the BJS
prisoner data to data on drug offenders released from prison in 14 of 18
states that fully implemented the federal bans on TANF and food stamps.
Because of the limited data on persons actually denied TANF and food
stamp benefits, we provide rough estimates of the proportions of drug
offenders that met selected eligibility criteria to receive these benefits
rather than of the number of such offenders actually denied these benefits.
To identify the various factors that contributed to our estimates of those
potentially affected by federal provisions that provide for denial of
benefits, we interviewed officials from the federal agencies that administer
the federal benefits that may be denied, researchers who have studied the
denial of federal benefits and related issues, and officials of various
associations who represent PHAs, which are the agencies that manage
federally assisted benefits. We also reviewed published studies on the
denial of federal benefits.
We assessed the reliability of the data that we used in preparing this report
by, as appropriate, interviewing agency officials about their data,
reviewing documentation about the data sets, and conducting electronic
tests. We used only the portions of the data that we found to be
sufficiently reliable for our purposes in this report. We provide a more
detailed discussion of our objectives, scope, and general methodology in
appendix I. In appendices II through V, we further discuss our
methodologies for each of the federal benefits that we reviewed.
We conducted our work from March 2004 through July 2005 in accordance
with generally accepted government auditing standards.

Results in Brief

Relatively small percentages of applicants but thousands of persons were
reported to be denied postsecondary education benefits, federally assisted
housing, or selected licenses and contracts as a result of federal laws that
provide for denying benefits to drug offenders during the years for which
we had data. In relation to postsecondary education loans and grants,
during academic year 2003-2004—one of the years in our review—about
41,000 applicants (about 0.3 percent of total applicants) either reported
that they had drug offense convictions that disqualified them from
receiving assistance or left the question blank, which also disqualified

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

them from receiving federal assistance. In relation to public housing,
among 13 of the largest PHAs in the nation that responded to our request
for information about both lease terminations and reasons for denial of
housing assistance that occurred during 2003, less than 6 percent of the
more than 9,200 lease terminations that occurred in these agencies were
reportedly for reasons of drug-related criminal activities—such as illegal
distribution or use of a controlled substance. About 5 percent of the
roughly 29,000 applications for admission into public housing in 15 of the
largest PHAs in the nation were reportedly denied admission for reasons
of drug-related criminal activities. From 1990 through the second quarter
of 2004, sentencing judges in federal and state courts reported that they
denied benefits such as licenses, grants, and contracts to an average of
about 600 convicted drug offenders per year.
Various factors affect which convicted felony drug offenders may be
eligible to receive TANF or food stamps. This is because state of
residence, income, and family situation all play a role in determining
eligibility. Federal law mandates that convicted felony drug offenders face
a lifetime ban on receipt of TANF and food stamps unless states pass laws
to exempt some or all such drug felons from the ban. At the time of our
review, 32 states had laws exempting some or all convicted felony drug
offenders from the ban on TANF, and 35 states had done so for the ban on
food stamps. TANF eligibility requires that an applicant have custodial
care of a child and that income be below eligibility thresholds. For food
stamps, income and work requirements are used to determine eligibility.
Thus, only those drug offenders who meet these requirements could be
denied benefits because of their convictions. From available data for 14 of
the 18 states that fully implemented the ban on TANF, we estimated that
about 15 percent of drug offenders released from prison in 2001 met key
eligibility requirements and constitute the pool of potentially affected
felony drug offenders. The custodial parent requirement results in
proportionally more female drug felons potentially affected by the TANF
ban than males. For food stamps, we estimated that in 12 of the 15 states
that fully implemented the federal ban on food stamps, about 23 percent of
drug offenders released from prison during 2001 were custodial parents of
minor children with incomes that could make them eligible to receive food
stamps.
We provided a draft of this report to the Attorney General; the Secretaries
of the Departments of Education, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban
Development; the Assistant Secretary of the Administration for Children
and Families, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy;
the Research Director of the United States Sentencing Commission; and

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts for
their review and comment. We received technical comments from the
Departments of Justice, Agriculture, and Education, and from the United
States Sentencing Commission and the Administrative Office of the United
States Courts, which we incorporated into the report where appropriate.

Background

Selected provisions of federal law explicitly prohibit specific categories of
drug offenders from receiving certain federal benefits for specified
periods.4 Table 1 identifies key provisions of federal law that provide for
denial of benefits specifically to drug offenders and the corresponding
benefits that may or must be denied to drug offenders.

Table 1: Provisions of Selected Federal Law and the Corresponding Benefits That May Be Denied to Certain Drug Offenders
Provisions of federal law

Federal programs identified in provisions Description of the benefits that may or
allowing for denial of benefits
must be denied

Section 115 of the Personal
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Responsibility and Work Opportunity
Reconciliation Act of 1996a (21 U.S.C. §
a
862 )

Section 438 of the Higher Education Act
Amendments of 1988 (20 U.S.C. §
b
1091(r))

Cash assistance, vouchers, and other forms
of support designed to meet a needy family’s
ongoing basic needs

Food Stamp Program

Food assistance payments to low-income
households and those transitioning from
welfare to work.

Postsecondary education assistance

Federal Pell Grants, Stafford loans, and
work-study assistance.

Section 5101 of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act Federally assisted housing: Low-rent Public
c
of 1988 (42 U.S.C. § 1437d(l)(6));
Housing Program
Section 428 of the Housing and Urban
Development Appropriations Act for
fiscal year 1999 (42 U.S.C. § 1437n(f));
and section 577 of the Quality Housing
Work and Responsibility Act of 1998 (42
U.S.C. § 13662)
Federally assisted housing: Housing Choice
Voucher Program (formerly known as
Section 8 Housing)

Public housing primarily for low-income
families with children.

Private market housing assistance for very
low-income families, the elderly, and the
disabled.

4

In addition to federal provisions explicitly denying federal benefits for drug offenders,
other federal and state provisions may restrict convicted drug offenders from accessing
certain types of occupational opportunities, participating in jury service, obtaining drivers’
licenses, or exercising voting rights.

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Provisions of federal law

Federal programs identified in provisions Description of the benefits that may or
allowing for denial of benefits
must be denied

Section 5301 of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act Denial of Federal Benefits Program
of 1988 (21 USC § 862)

Federal postsecondary student loans,
federal licenses (e.g., for physicians, pilots,
and others), and procurement contracts,
among other benefits

Source: GAO analysis of federal law.
a

Pub. L. No. 104-93, 110 Stat. 2105 (1996).

b

Pub. L. No. 105-244, 112 Stat. 1581 (1998).

c

Pub. L. No. 100-690, 102 Stat. 4181 (1988).

d

Pub. L. No. 105-276, 112 Stat. 2461, 2511, 2640 (1998). See appendix V for details about other
federal provisions that affect the denial of federally assisted housing benefits.

Except for federal licenses, procurement contracts, and grants under
Denial of Federal Benefits Program, the benefits that may or must be
denied are benefits that are generally provided to low-income individuals
and families. TANF, food stamps, federally assisted housing, and Pell
Grants are low-income programs. The Denial of Federal Benefits Program,
established under Section 5301 of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, as
amended, provides that federal and state court judges may deny all or
some of certain specified federal benefits to individuals convicted of drug
trafficking or drug possession offenses involving controlled substances.
Additional details on each of the programs may be found in appendices II,
III, IV, and V.
The provisions differ on key elements. For example, they establish
different classes of drug offenders that may or must be denied benefits,
and they provide for different periods that drug offenders are rendered
ineligible to receive a benefit and whether or not benefits can be restored.
Some of the provisions allow that drug offenders may become eligible for
benefits upon completing a recognized drug treatment program.
Provisions established by the Personal Responsibility and Work
Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), as amended, which
govern the TANF and food stamp programs, provide that benefits must be
denied to persons convicted of a state or federal felony drug offense that
involves the possession, use, or distribution of a controlled substance that
occurred after August 22, 1996, the effective date of these provisions.
Students become ineligible to receive federal postsecondary education
benefits upon a conviction of either a misdemeanor or a felony controlled
substances offense. Loss of federally assisted housing benefits can occur if
individuals, relatives in their household, or guests under a tenant’s control
engage in drug-related criminal activity, regardless of whether the activity

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

resulted in a conviction.5 Local public housing authorities, which
administer federally assisted housing benefits, have discretion in
determining the behaviors that could lead to loss of certain federal
housing benefits. Under the Denial of Federal Benefits Program, judges in
federal and state courts may deny a range of federal licenses, contracts,
and grants to persons convicted of controlled substances drug trafficking
and drug possession offenses.
The period of ineligibility to receive benefits varies. Under PRWORA, as
amended, unless states enact laws that exempt convicted drug offenders
in their state from the federal ban, TANF and food stamp benefits are
forfeited for life for those convicted of disqualifying drug offenses. State
laws may also result in a shorter period of denial of these benefits.
Students are disqualified from receiving federal postsecondary education
benefits for varying periods depending on the number and type of
disqualifying drug offense convictions. A first conviction for possession of
a controlled substance, for example, results in a 1-year period of
ineligibility, while a first conviction for sale of controlled substance results
in a 2-year period of ineligibility. Upon subsequent convictions, the period
of ineligibility can extend indefinitely.
Federally assisted housing benefits may also be denied for varying periods
of time, depending upon the number and types of drug-related criminal
activities. The minimum loss of benefit is 3 years in certain circumstances,
and the maximum is a lifetime ban. For example, for persons convicted of
certain methamphetamine offenses, the ban is mandatory and for life.
Under the Denial of Federal Benefits Program, the denial of certain other
types of benefits by judges, such as federal grants and contracts, can range
from 1 year to life depending on the type of offense and number of
convictions.
In some cases, the period of benefit ineligibility may be shortened if
offenders complete drug treatment. For example, students may have their
postsecondary education benefits restored if they satisfactorily complete a
drug treatment program that satisfies certain criteria and includes two
unannounced drug tests. Under the Denial of Federal Benefits Program,
the denial of benefits penalties may, for example, be waived if a person

5

The term “drug-related criminal activity” means the illegal manufacture, sale, distribution,
use, or possession with intent to manufacture, sell, distribute, or use a controlled
substance—as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. § 802), 42
U.S.C. §1437d(1).

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

successfully completes a drug treatment program. Other than offenders
who were convicted of methamphetamine offenses, drug offenders that
successfully complete drug treatment may receive federally assisted
housing benefits prior to the end of their period of ineligibility. In states
that have passed laws so specifying, drug offenders may shorten the
period of ineligibility for TANF and food stamp benefits by completing
drug treatment. (See table 2.)
Table 2: Selected Federal Legal Provisions Providing for Denial of Benefits to Drug Offenders
Conditions under which either
the loss of benefits may be
limited or benefits may be
restored

Drug offense that may lead to
denial of benefits

Period of benefit denial

TANF

Persons convicted of felonies for
certain controlled substance
related offenses that occurred
after August 22, 1996

Lifetime, upon a first felony
conviction, unless offenders
reside in states that have opted
out of or modified the federal ban

Loss of benefit is limited when
offenders reside in states whose
exemptions either opt out of the
federal ban or provide for
restoration of benefits

Food stamps

Persons convicted of felonies for
certain controlled substance
related offenses that occurred
after August 22, 1996

Lifetime, upon a first felony
conviction, unless offenders
reside in states that have opted
out of or modified the federal ban

Loss of benefit is limited when
offenders reside in states whose
exemptions either opt out of the
federal ban or provide for
restoration of benefits

Postsecondary education
assistance

Students convicted of certain
Varies from 1 year to an indefinite Benefits may be restored after
misdemeanor or felony controlled period for repeated convictions
completion of drug treatment or if
substance-related offenses
the conviction is reversed, set
aside, or otherwise rendered
nugatory

Federally assisted housing

Varies, but includes applicants,
tenants, their household family
members, and guests under their
control who engage in drugrelated criminal activities whether
convicted or not

Varies, but a minimum of 3 years
for those with a prior eviction for
drug-related criminal activities
and mandatory lifetime denial for
persons convicted of certain
methamphetamine offenses

Benefits may be restored after
completion of drug treatment, with
the exception of those persons
convicted of certain
methamphetamine offenses

Certain federal licenses,
contracts, loans, grants,
and other federal benefits,
under the Denial of Federal
Benefits Program

Persons convicted of controlled
substance trafficking and
possession offenses in federal or
state courts

Varies from 1 year to life,
depending upon the type of
offense and number of
convictions

Benefits may be restored after the
individual has completed a drug
treatment program, has otherwise
been rehabilitated, or has made
good faith efforts to participate in
treatment but is unable to
complete treatment because of
lack of programs or ability to pay

Federal benefit

Source: GAO analysis of selected provisions of federal law and agency documents.

The legislative history of these provisions is silent as to whether they were
intended to do more than provide for denying federal benefits to drug
offenders, such as deterring drug offenders from committing future

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criminal acts. For example, our 1992 report indicated that in the floor
debates over the Denial of Federal Benefits Program, some members of
Congress expressed the opinion that even casual drug use should result in
serious consequences, such as the loss of federal benefits.6 With respect to
prohibiting drug offenders from public housing, congressional findings
made in 1990 and amended in 1998 address the extent of drug-related
criminal activities in public housing and the federal government’s duty to
provide public and other federally assisted low-income housing that is
decent, safe, and free from illegal drugs.

How Benefit Eligibility
Requirements May Affect
whether a Drug Offender
Loses Benefits

TANF, food stamps, federally assisted housing, and Pell Grants are meanstested benefits. To receive the benefits, individuals must meet certain
eligibility criteria. These criteria vary with the benefit. For instance, states
determine maximum earned income limits for TANF, but to receive food
stamps, the federal poverty guidelines are generally used in determining
eligibility. To receive federally assisted housing, local area median income
is used. Additionally, most adults eligible for TANF and some adults
eligible for food stamps must meet specified work requirements to
participate in the programs. Table 3 summarizes the general eligibility
requirements for the federal benefits discussed in this report and identifies
the federal, state, and local agencies responsible for administering the
programs.

6

GAO, Drug Control: Difficulties in Denying Federal Benefits to Convicted Drug
Offenders, GAO/GGD-92-56 (Washington, D.C.: April 21, 1992).

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Table 3: General Eligibility Criteria to Receive Selected Federal Benefits and Federal Agencies Responsible for Administering
Programs
Federal benefit

General eligibility requirements to receive the
federal benefit

Federal, state, or local agency responsible for
administering the benefit

TANF

States determine which needy families receive benefits. The Administration for Children and Families in the
A needy family must consist of at least one child living
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
with a relative or may consist of a pregnant woman.
Eligibility for benefits is based on a variety of factors,
including earned income limits, and work and education
requirements.

Food stamps

In most states, household gross income cannot exceed The Food and Nutrition Services in the U.S.
130 percent of the federal poverty level, and net income Department of Agriculture (USDA).
cannot exceed 100 percent of the poverty guidelines,
a
and most states place limits on household assets.
Unless exempted by law, all food stamp recipients are
subject to some type of work requirements. Able-bodied
adults without dependent children must meet more
stringent work requirements to receive benefits.

Postsecondary
education assistance

Requirements include a high school diploma or general U.S. Department of Education.
equivalency degree (GED); acceptance into or active
enrollment in an eligible, degree-granting institution; and
b
family income requirements.

Federally assisted
housing

Income eligibility is based on HUD’s local area’s median Office of Public and Indian Housing within the
family income determinations. PHAs that manage
HUD. Local PHAs have responsibility for managing
federal housing may establish nonincome preference
federally assisted housing rental units.
factors.

Licenses, contracts,
and loans under the
Denial of Federal
Benefits Program

Professional competency and specific licensure
requirements as defined by regulations.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) maintains
records of the information it receives from state
and federal court officials about persons denied
benefits under this program, and the General
Services Administration includes this information
on its list of persons excluded from federal
procurement or nonprocurement programs, to
which other federal agencies have access.

Source: GAO analysis of federal and state requirements and agency documents.
a
For 2003, 130 percent of the federal poverty level was roughly equivalent to $1,654 per month for a
family of three, and the net income threshold for a family of three was about $1,272 per month. Net
income is determined by taking into account a number of approved deductions from gross income.
b
Students must be considered as either dependents or independent of their parents for the purposes
of financial aid, and the share of family income and assets that are expected to be available for a
student’s education is determined by certain formulas.

Not all persons who meet the general eligibility requirements to receive
federal benefits participate in the respective programs. Our recent study
on programs that aim to support needy families and individuals shows that

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the portion of those eligible to receive the benefits that actually enrolled in
the programs varied among programs.7 Among families eligible to
participate in TANF in 2001, between 46 percent and 50 percent were
estimated to be participating in the program. For food stamps in 2001,
between 46 percent and 48 percent of eligible households were estimated
to participate in the program. For federally assisted housing, between 13
percent and 15 percent of eligible households in 1999 were estimated to be
covered by the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program and between 7
percent and 9 percent of eligible households in 1999 were estimated to be
covered by the Public Housing Program. Further, the Department of
Education reports that among all applicants for federal postsecondary
education assistance in academic year 2001-2002, about 77 percent of the
applicants that were eligible to receive Pell Grants applied for and
received them.
Drug offenders would be directly affected by the federal provisions that
allow for denial of low-income federal benefits when, apart from their
disqualifying drug offense, they would have qualified to receive the
benefits. For example, if a drug offender is not in a financially needy
family and living with her dependent child, the drug offender would not be
eligible for TANF benefits aside from the drug offense conviction.8 To be
directly affected by the ban on food stamps, a drug offender would have
had to meet income tests and work requirements, unless the work
requirements are, under certain specified circumstances, identified as not
applicable by federal food stamp laws; otherwise, the offender’s
ineligibility to receive the benefit would disqualify him, as opposed to his
drug offense. Because the ban on the receipt of TANF and food stamps is
for life, an offender who is not otherwise eligible to receive the benefits at
one point in time might become otherwise eligible to receive the benefits
at a later point in time and at that time be affected by the provisions of
PRWORA.
To be otherwise eligible to receive federal postsecondary education
assistance, a person convicted of a disqualifying drug offense would, at a
minimum, have to be enrolled in or accepted at an institution of higher
education, as well as meet certain income tests. To be otherwise eligible

7

GAO, Means-Tested Programs: Information on Program Access Can Be an Important
Management Tool, GAO-05-221(Washington, D.C.: February 25, 2005).
8

Needy pregnant women can also be eligible for TANF benefits, as they constitute a family
unit for the purposes of TANF.

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for federally assisted housing benefits, a person would have to meet
income tests.

Estimated Number of
Drug Offenders
Denied Federal
Postsecondary
Education, Housing,
and Certain Contracts
and Grants Varies by
Type of Benefit

We estimated that among applicants for federal postsecondary education
assistance, drug offenders constituted less than 0.5 percent on average of
all applicants for assistance during recent years. In general, the education
attainment level of drug offenders is lower than that of the general
population, and this lower level affects drug offenders’ eligibility for
federal postsecondary assistance. Among selected large PHAs that
reported denying applicants admission into public housing during 2003,
less than 5 percent of applicants were denied admission because of drugrelated criminal activities. PHAs have discretion in developing policies to
deny offenders for drug-related criminal activities. Federal and state court
sentencing judges were reported to impose sanctions to federal benefits to
fewer than 600 convicted drug offenders in 2002 and 2003, or less than 0.2
percent of felony drug convictions on average.

An Estimated 17,000 to
41,000 Drug Offenders Lost
Selected Federal
Postsecondary Education
Benefits in Selected Years

According to Department of Education data on applicants for federal
postsecondary education assistance for the academic years from 20012002 through 2003-2004, less than 0.5 percent on average of the roughly 11
million to 13 million applicants for assistance reported on their
applications that they had a drug offense conviction that made them
ineligible to receive education assistance in the year in which they applied.
These numbers do not take into account the persons who did not apply for
federal postsecondary education assistance because they thought that
their prior drug convictions would preclude them from receiving
assistance or any applicant who falsified information about drug
convictions. Using these data and Department of Education data on
applicants that received assistance for the academic years 2001-2002
through 2003-2004, we estimated that between 17,000 and 20,000
applicants per year would have been denied Pell Grants, and between
29,000 and 41,000 would have been denied student loans if the applicants
who self-certified to a disqualifying drug offense were eligible to receive
the benefits in the same proportion as the other applicants. (See app. III
for details on our methods of estimating these figures.)
In general, the educational attainment levels of persons convicted of drug
offenses is less than that of persons in the general population. This results
in proportionately fewer persons eligible for these education benefits than
in the general population. Our analysis of data from the only national
survey of adults on probation that also reports on their educational

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attainment indicates that among drug offenders on probation during 1995,9
less than half had completed high school or obtained a general equivalency
degree (GED)—prerequisites for enrolling in a postsecondary institution.
By comparison, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, about 18
percent of adults in the general population had less than a high school
degree. More recent data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission on roughly
26,000 drug offenders sentenced federally during 2003 indicate that half of
them had less than a high school degree, about one-third had graduated
from high school, and about 18 percent had at least some college.10 In
addition, our analysis of BJS data on drug offenders released from prisons
in 23 states during 2001 indicate that about 57 percent of these drug
offenders had not completed high school by the time they were admitted
into prison; about 36 percent had completed high school or obtained a
GED as their highest level of education completed; and the remainder had
completed some postsecondary education.

In Selected PHAs Less
Than 6 Percent of
Residents and Applicants
Were Denied Federally
Assisted Housing during
2003 because of DrugRelated Criminal Activities

We obtained data from 17 of the largest PHAs in the nation on the
decisions that they made to deny federally assisted housing benefits to
residents or applicants during 2003.11 Thirteen of the 17 PHAs reported
data on both (1) the number of leases in the Public Housing Program units
that they manage that ended during 2003 and (2) the number of leases that
were terminated for reasons of drug-related criminal activities. These 13
PHAs reported terminating leases of 520 tenants in the Public Housing
Program because of drug-related criminal activities. The termination of a
lease is the first step in evicting tenants from public housing. Tenants
whose leases were terminated for reasons of drug-related criminal
activities constituted less than 6 percent of the 9,249 leases that were

9

The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Survey of Adults on Probation in 1995 is its most recent
nationally representative survey of probationers that collects data on education level.
These data also report the type of offense that led to the probation term.

10

United States Sentencing Commission, 2003 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics,
Washington, D.C.: United States Sentencing Commission. Published annually.

11

We contacted 40 of the largest PHAs in the nation and requested information about
denials of federally assisted housing assistance. The 17 that provided us with information
are shown in appendix IV. These 17 are not statistically representative of the more than
3,000 PHAs nationwide. While our review covered both the Public Housing Program and
the Housing Choice Voucher Program, not all 17 of the PHAs provided us with information
on both types of programs.

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terminated in these 13 PHAs during 2003.12 Among these PHAs, the
percentage of terminations of leases for reasons of drug-related criminal
activities ranged from 0 percent to less than 40 percent. These PHAs also
reported that the total number of lease terminations in 2003 and the
volume of denials for drug-related activities were generally comparable
with similar numbers for the 3 prior years. (See app. IV for data for each
PHA that responded to our request for information.)
Fifteen PHAs acted on 29,459 applications for admission into the Public
Housing Program during 2003. Among these applicants seeking residency,
we estimated that less than 5 percent were denied admission because of
their drug-related criminal activities. The PHAs also reported that they
acted on similar numbers of applicants and made similar numbers of
denial decisions in the prior 3 years. Table 4 shows the data on lease
terminations and denials of admission in two federally assisted housing
programs.
Table 4: Number and Percentage of Tenants and Applicants for Federally Assisted Housing Benefits That Were Denied
Benefits for Reasons of Drug-Related Criminal Activities in Selected Large PHAs in 2003
a

Housing program
Public Housing
Program
HCV Program

Among PHAs,
range of
percentage of
actions due to
drug-related
criminal activities

Number of PHAs
reporting data

Number of
actions

Estimated overall
percentage of actions
due to drug-related
criminal activities

Lease terminations

13

9,249

5.6%

b

0% to 39.3%

Admissions decisions

15

29,459

< 5%

0.4% to 6.9%

Terminations of
assistance

9

12,703

< 2%

0.07% to 6.1%

Admissions decisions

9

21,996

< 1.5%

0.7%

Type of action taken
by PHAs

c

Source: GAO analysis of data from selected public housing agencies.
a

Among PHAs that reported the data.

b

This figure represents the actual percentage of actions taken due to drug-related criminal activities.

c

Only one PHA reported denying HCV assistance for reasons of drug-related criminal activities.

12

Leases may end or be terminated for a variety of reasons, including a tenant’s failure to
make payments due under the lease.

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We also obtained and analyzed data from HUD on the number of evictions
and denials of admission into public housing during fiscal years 2002 and
2003 that occurred for reasons of criminal activity, of which drug-related
criminal activity is a subset. More than 3,000 PHAs reported to HUD that in
each of these years there were about 9,000 evictions for reasons related to
criminal activity and about 49,000 denials of admission for reasons of
criminal activity. As a percentage of units managed by these PHAs,
evictions for reasons of criminal activity in each of these years amounted
to less than 1 percent of units managed, and denials of admission
amounted to about 4 percent of units managed. Evictions and denials for
reasons of drug-related criminal activities would have to be equal to or,
much more likely, less than these percentages.
On the basis of data that 9 PHAs were able to report about terminating
participation in the HCV Program during 2003, we estimated that less than
2 percent of the decisions to terminate assistance in the HCV program (of
the roughly 12,700 such decisions) were for reasons of drug-related
criminal activities. In addition, 9 PHAs reported that they acted on 21,996
applications for admission into the HCV Program and that less than 1.5
percent of applicants were denied admission for reasons of drug-related
criminal activities.

Discretionary Authority
May Allow Some to
Receive Housing Benefits,
but Supply Limitations
May Be a Significant
Barrier

Local PHAs that administer federally assisted housing benefits have
discretion in determining whether current tenants or applicants for
assistance have engaged in drug-related criminal activities that disqualify
them from receiving housing benefits. HUD requires PHAs to develop
guidelines for evicting from or denying admittance into federally assisted
housing to individuals who engage in drug-related criminal activity. A
November 2000 HUD study on the administration of the HCV Program
described the variation in PHA policies on denying housing to persons
who engaged in drug-related criminal activities. HUD concluded that
because of the policy differences, some PHAs could deny applicants who
could be admitted by others.13 For example, some PHAs consider only
convictions in determining whether applicants qualify for housing benefits,
while others look at both arrests and convictions. Some look for a pattern
of drug-related criminal behavior, while others look for evidence that any

13

Deborah Devine, Barbara A. Haley, Lester Rubin, and Robert W. Gray, “The Uses of
Discretionary Authority in the Section 8 Tenant-Based Program: A Baseline Inventory of
Issues, Policy, and Practice,” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development, November 2000.

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drug-related criminal activities occurred. In addition, among PHAs, the
period of ineligibility for assistance arising from a prior eviction from
federally assisted housing because of drug-related criminal activities
ranged from 3 to 5 years. (See app. IV for a summary of selected PHA
policies.)
Any imbalance between the supply of and demand for federally assisted
housing may also affect whether drug offenders are denied access to this
benefit. The stock of available federally assisted housing units in the
Public Housing Program is generally insufficient to meet demand. PHAs
may have long waiting lists, up to 10 years in some cases, for access to
federally assisted housing. As PHAs generally place new applicants at the
end of waiting lists, a drug offender who might be disqualified from
federally assisted housing but who applies for housing assistance could go
to the end of a PHA’s waiting list. Until that applicant moved to the top of
the waiting list, the limited supply of federally assisted housing, and not
necessarily a drug offense conviction, would effectively deny the applicant
access to the benefit.

Limited Use of the Denial
of Federal Benefits
Program Sanctions

Between 1990 and the second quarter of 2004, BJA received reports from
state and federal courts that 8,298 offenders were sanctioned under the
Denial of Federal Benefits Program in federal and state courts. This
amounted to an average of fewer than 600 offenders per year. The Denial
of Federal Benefits Program provides judges with a sentencing option to
deny federal benefits such as grants, contracts, and licenses. About 62
percent of the cases reported to be sanctioned under the Denial of Federal
Benefits Program occurred in federal courts, and the remaining 38 percent
occurred in state courts. For recent years (2002 and 2003), BJA reported
that fewer than 600 persons were denied federal benefits under the
program. In 2002, there were more than 360,000 drug felony convictions
nationwide. On average, less than 0.2 percent of these convicted drug
felons were sanctioned under this program.
According to the BJA data, state court judges in 7 states have imposed the
sanction, and state court judges in Texas accounted for 39 percent of all
cases in which drug offenders were reportedly denied benefits under this
program by state court judges. Federal judges in judicial districts in 26
states had reportedly imposed denial of benefits sanctions, and federal
judges in Texas accounted for 21 percent of the cases in which federal
judges reportedly denied benefits. The pattern of use of sanctions under
this program, with substantially more use in some jurisdictions than in
others, may indicate that there are drug offenders in some locations who

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could have received the sanction but did not. (See app. V for more
information about this program.)
We previously reported on the relatively limited use of this sanction.14 We
reported then that many offenders who could be denied access to federal
benefits would also be sentenced to prison terms that exceed the benefit
ineligibility period; therefore, upon release from prison, the offenders
would not necessarily have benefits to lose. BJA officials reported that as
of 2004, about 2,000 convicted drug offenders were still under sanction
under the Denial of Benefits Program, as the period of denial had expired
for the other sanctioned offenders.

State Exemptions to
the Federal Bans on
TANF and Food
Stamps and Other
Factors Affect the
Percentage of Drug
Offenders That Would
Have Been Eligible to
Receive the Benefits

Most states have acted on the discretionary authority provided them under
federal law to enact legislation that exempts some or all convicted drug
felons in their states from the federal bans on their receipt of TANF and
food stamps. That is, these state laws allow that convicted drug felons may
not be banned for life from receiving TANF and food stamps provided they
meet certain conditions. For states that had not modified the federal ban
on TANF, we estimated that about 15 percent of all offenders and 27
percent of female offenders released from prison during 2001 would have
met selected eligibility requirements and would therefore potentially be
affected by the ban. We also estimated that among drug offenders released
from prison during 2001 in states that had not modified the federal ban on
food stamps about a quarter were custodial parents whose reported
income was below federal poverty thresholds for food stamps. While food
stamps are not limited to custodial parents, and the ban could affect other
drug offenders, we limited our analysis to this group.

Eighteen States Fully
Implement the Federal Ban
on TANF, as the Remainder
Have Enacted Legislation
to Exempt Some or All
Convicted Drug Felons

A total of 32 states have enacted laws that exempt all or some convicted
drug felons from the federal ban on TANF benefits. Of these states, 9 have
enacted laws that exempt all convicted drug felons from the federal ban,
and these persons may receive TANF benefits provided that they meet
their state’s general eligibility criteria. Another 23 states have passed laws
that exempt some drug felons from the TANF ban. The modifications
allow that some convicted drug felons may receive benefits and generally
fall into any of three categories: (1) Some states permit felons convicted of

14

See GAO, Drug Control: Difficulties in Denying Federal Benefits to Convicted Drug
Offenders, GAO/GGD-92-56, (Washington, D.C.: April 21, 1992).

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drug use or simple possession offenses to continue to receive TANF
benefits but deny them to felons convicted of drug sales, distribution, or
trafficking offenses; (2) some states allow convicted felons to receive
TANF benefits only after a period of time has passed; and (3) some states
allow convicted drug felons to receive TANF benefits conditioned upon
their compliance with drug treatment, drug testing, or other conditions.
(See app. II for the status of states’ exemptions to the TANF ban.)
Using state-level data on drug arrests as a proxy for state-level data on
drug convictions, we estimated that the 9 states that completely opted out
of the TANF ban and exempted all convicted drug felons from the ban
accounted for about 10 percent of drug arrests nationally in 2002.15 The 23
states whose exemptions modified the TANF ban accounted for about 45
percent of drug arrests nationally. For these states with various
exemptions, it is difficult to determine to which drug felons the ban might
apply, as participation in the program is contingent upon a felon’s
behavior (such as abiding with conditions of probation or parole
supervision, or participating in drug treatment). Finally, the 18 states that
fully implemented the TANF ban accounted for about 45 percent of all
drug arrests nationwide.

In States That Fully
Implement the Ban on
TANF, about 15 Percent of
All Drug Offenders
Released from Prison in
2001 Were Estimated to
Meet TANF Eligibility
Criteria

Using Bureau of Justice Statistics survey data on the family and economic
characteristics of drug offenders in prison and state-level data on the
number of drug offenders released from prison during 2001 in 14 of the 18
states that fully implement the ban on TANF, we estimated that about 15
percent of those released from prison were parents of minor children,
lived with their children, and had earned income below the maximum
levels permitted by their states of residence.16 That is, but for the ban, they
may have been eligible to receive TANF benefits. We estimated that the
majority of drug felons—who are single males and not custodial parents—

15

State-level data on the number of felony drug convictions are not collected by federal
agencies or by organizations that monitor state court activities.

16

In the 14 states, about 96,000 drug offenders were released from prison during 2001, and
of these, about 51,000 had been released from a new sentence for a drug conviction. The 4
omitted states, for which we could not obtain data, accounted for about 3 percent of the
population of the 18 states that fully implemented the TANF ban. Our estimates of the
percentage that may have been eligible to receive TANF are based in part on data from the
Bureau of Justice Statistics Survey of Inmates of State Correctional Facilities. The survey
provides data that prisoners report about their family and economic characteristics prior to
their admission into prison. See appendix II for details on our methodology.

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did not meet these TANF eligibility requirements and would therefore not
have been qualified to receive the benefit even in the absence of the
provisions of PRWORA. (See app. II for additional information about the
methods used to estimate these quantities.)
Female drug offenders released from prison in the 14 states constituted
about 13 percent of drug offenders released from prison in 2001. We
estimated that between 25 percent and 28 percent of these female
offenders were parents of minor children who lived with their children and
whose incomes were below state thresholds, and therefore stood to lose
TANF benefits. This percentage among female drug offenders released
from prison is about twice that for males. From the available data, we
estimated that less than 15 percent of male prisoners were parents who
lived with their children and had earned incomes that would qualify them
to receive TANF benefits.
Other factors, which we could not take into account to estimate the
percentages of drug offenders that could be eligible to receive TANF
benefits, include citizenship status and total family income. Noncitizens
with fewer than 5 years of residence in the United States are generally
ineligible to receive TANF. Several of the states for which we obtained
data on drug offenders released from prison have relatively large
noncitizen populations. Therefore, among those drug offenders that we
estimated could have been eligible to receive TANF benefits might be
some ineligible noncitizens. In addition, the data that we used to estimate
whether drug offenders met state income eligibility requirements included
individual income rather than total family income. It is possible that some
prisoners would join family units with incomes above state TANF
eligibility earned income limits and would thus be disqualified for benefits.
Among the drug offenders released from prison during 2001, the
percentage that may be affected by the TANF ban at any time during their
lifetimes would be greater than our estimate of those initially affected.
This is because at a later date some of these offenders may meet the
general eligibility criteria for receiving benefits. Thus, the percentage ever
affected by the bans would grow over time.
Because of data availability, our estimates focus on convicted drug felons
who were in prison. We do not have data to assess the effect of the TANF
ban on drug felons who received probation or who were sentenced to time
in local jails. According to BJS data, nationwide, about one-third of
convicted drug felons are sentenced to probation. Moreover, our estimates
apply to the states that fully implemented the ban on TANF. Because of

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complexities associated with state exemptions to the federal ban and the
lack of sufficiently detailed data, we cannot provide an estimate of the
percentage of convicted drug offenders who could be affected by the ban
in the 23 states that modified the TANF ban. We note, however, that state
modifications to the ban may allow convicted drug felons to participate in
TANF if they abide by the conditions set in the state exemptions (such as
abide by conditions of parole or probation supervision or participate in
drug treatment). In these states, unlike in the states that fully implement
the federal ban, the post-conviction behavior of offenders would help to
determine whether they could receive the benefit. Other state
modifications allow drug offenders to receive TANF benefits at some point
in the future (such as after completing drug treatment or receiving a
sufficient number of negative drug test results). In states that require that
drug felons wait before becoming eligible to participate in TANF, the
federal ban is in effect until the waiting period ends. We would therefore
expect estimates of the percentage affected during the waiting period to
be similar to the estimates of the percentage affected in the states that
fully implemented the federal ban.

In States That Fully
Implement the Ban on
Food Stamps, About OneFourth of Drug Offenders
Released from Prison in
2001 Were Parents Who
Could Have Been Eligible
for Food Stamps

At the time of our review, 15 states fully implemented the federal ban on
food stamp benefits to convicted drug felons, and 35 states had passed
laws to exempt all or some convicted drug felons in their own states from
the federal ban on food stamps. Of the 35 states with exemptions, 14 states
exempt all convicted drug felons from the food stamp ban, and 21 have
laws that exempt some convicted drug felons from the food stamp ban
provided that they meet certain conditions.17 In the 21 states that modified
the food stamp ban, the modifications are similar to those for TANF and
generally include (1) exempting persons convicted of drug possession
from the ban, while retaining it for persons convicted of drug sales,
distribution, or trafficking; (2) requiring a waiting period to pass before
eligibility is restored; and (3) conditioning food stamp eligibility upon
compliance with drug treatment, drug testing, or other conditions. (See
app. II for the status of states’ exemptions to the food stamps ban.)
States’ decisions to exempt all or some convicted drug felons in their
states from the ban on food stamps affect the proportion of drug felons

17

The number of states exempting some or all convicted drug felons from the food stamp
ban has increased over time. USDA reports, for example, that in 2001, 19 states had
exemptions for some or all convicted drug felons. By 2004, 35 states had some type of
exemption.

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that can be affected by the ban. Using the state-level drug arrest data as
the proxy for felony drug convictions (as we did for TANF), we find that
the 15 states that fully implemented the ban on food stamps accounted for
about 22 percent of all drug arrests nationally. Using data from the BJS
inmate survey on the family and economic characteristics of drug
offenders in prison and state-level data on the number of drug offenders
released from prison during 2001 in 12 of the 15 states that fully
implemented the ban on food stamps, we estimated that about 23 percent
of those released from prison were parents of minor children whose
incomes were below the federal poverty guidelines. Among male drug
offenders, we estimated that about 22 percent met these conditions, while
among female drug offenders, we estimated that about 36 percent did.18 We
are unable to provide an estimate of the percentage of drug offenders that
could be eligible to receive food stamps as able-bodied adults without
dependent children. According to USDA, in 2003, this class of food stamp
recipients constituted about 2.5 percent of food stamp recipients
nationwide. Food stamps are not limited to custodial parents. However,
we limited our assessment to custodial parents because of data
limitations.
Because the denial of food stamps is a lifetime ban, the number of drug
offenders affected by the ban will increase over time, as additional
convicted drug felons are released from prison.
Also, as with the TANF estimates, data limitations precluded our providing
estimates for the felony drug offenders that were sentenced to probation
in 2001 or for the states that modified the federal ban.

Concluding
Observations

A complex array of provisions of federal law allow or require federal
benefits be denied to different classes of drug offenders. There is also a
good deal of discretion allowed in implementing these laws that can
exempt certain drug offenders from their application. Our estimates

18

Within these 12 states, there were about 67,000 drug offenders released from prison
during 2001, and of these, about 30,000 were released from a new sentence for a drug
conviction. Data for the other 3 states were not available. We have no reason to believe that
these 3 states are substantially different from the other 12 in relation to the impact s of the
ban. Our estimates of the percentage that may have been eligible to receive food stamps
are based in part on data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Survey of Inmates of State
Correctional Facilities. The survey provides data that prisoners report about their family
and economic characteristics prior to their admission into prison. See appendix II for
details on our methodology.

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

indicate that denial of benefit laws potentially affect relatively small
percentages of drug offenders, although the numbers potentially affected
in given years may be large. There are a number of reasons why the
percentages affected may be relatively small. First, large numbers of drug
offenders would not be eligible for these benefits regardless of their drug
offender status. For example, those who lack a high school diploma are
ineligible for postsecondary educational loans or grants, and many do not
meet eligibility requirement for TANF and food stamps. Also, in the case of
TANF and food stamps, the majority of states have used their discretion to
either partially or fully lift the ban on these benefits for certain drug
offenders.
It is important to note that although the overall numbers of drug offenders
that could be affected by the TANF and food stamp bans are relatively
small in comparison with the numbers of drug offenders, our estimates
suggest that the effects of the bans disproportionately fall on female
offenders. This is because they are more likely to be custodial parents with
low incomes and thus otherwise eligible for the benefits.

Agency Comments
and Our Evaluation

We provided a draft of this report to the Attorney General; the Secretaries
of the Departments of Education, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban
Development; the Assistant Secretary of the Administration for Children
and Families; the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy;
the Research Director of the United States Sentencing Commission; and
the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts for
their review and comment. We received technical comments from the
Departments of Justice, Agriculture, and Education, and from the United
States Sentencing Commission and Administrative Office of the United
States Courts, which we incorporated into the report where appropriate.

We are sending copies of this report to the Attorney General; the
Secretaries of the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services,
Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development; the Director of the
Office of National Drug Control Policy; the Research Director of the
United States Sentencing Commission, and the Director of the
Administrative Office of the United States Courts. We will also make
copies available to others upon request. In addition, the report will be
available at no charge on GAO’s Web site at http://www.gao.gov.
If you or your staff have any questions concerning this report, please
contact me at (202) 512-8777 or by e-mail at Ekstrandl@gao.gov. Contact

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

points for our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may
be found on the last page of this report. GAO staff who made major
contributors to this report are listed in appendix VI.

Laurie E. Ekstrand, Director
Homeland Security and Justice Issues

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology

Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology
Federal law provides that certain drug offenders may or must be denied
selected federal benefits, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy
Families (TANF), food stamps, federally assisted housing, postsecondary
education grants and loans, and certain federal contracts and licenses. Our
objectives were to analyze and report on two interrelated questions about
the number or percentage of drug offenders that could be affected by the
provisions: (1) In specific years, how many drug offenders were estimated
to be denied federal postsecondary education benefits, federally assisted
housing, and selected grants, contracts, and licenses? (2) What factors
affect whether drug offenders would have been eligible to receive TANF
and food stamp benefits, but for their drug offense convictions, and for a
recent year, what percentage would have been eligible to receive these
benefits?
In addition, we were asked to address the impact of federal benefit denial
laws on minorities and the long-term consequences of denying federal
benefits on the drug offender population and their families. Because of
severe data limitations, we were unable to provide a detailed response to
this matter. The final section of appendixes II, III, IV, and V in this report
include discussions of the data limitations that precluded us from
estimating the impacts on minorities. Where information was available, we
also identify in the appendices some of the possible long-run
consequences of denial of benefits.
We limited our analysis of federal laws to those that explicitly included
provisions that allowed for or required the denial of federal benefits to
drug offenders. We excluded other provisions that provide for denial of
benefits to all offenders, of which drug offenders are a subset. We also
excluded from our analysis provisions that applied to offenders only while
they are incarcerated and provisions that applied to fugitive felons. Other
federal laws relating to drug offenders but not within the scope of our
review include provisions such as those making a person ineligible for
certain types of employment, denying the use of certain tax credits, and
restricting the ability to conduct certain firearms transactions. Further,
because of the limited data available on persons actually denied federal
benefits, we provide rough estimates of either the number or the
percentage of drug offenders affected by the relevant provisions. We
provide an overview of these methodologies below but we discuss the
specifics of our methodologies for analyzing and estimating the impacts of
denying specific federal benefits in appendices II through V.
We assessed the reliability of the data that we used in preparing this report
by, as appropriate, interviewing agency officials about their data,

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology

reviewing documentation about the data sets, and conducting electronic
tests. We used only the portions of the data that we found to be
sufficiently reliable for our purposes in this report.
We conducted our work primarily in Washington, D.C., at the headquarters
of five federal agencies—the Departments of Justice (DOJ), Agriculture
(USDA), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Education (ED), and
Health and Human Services (HHS)—responsible for administering the
denial of federal benefit laws. We also conducted work at the Office for
National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)—which has responsibilities for
national drug control policy—the Administrative Office for United States
Courts (AOUSC)—which provides guidance to the courts for the
implementation of statutory requirements—and the United States
Sentencing Commission (USSC)—which has responsibilities for
monitoring federal sentencing outcomes.

Assessing How Many
Drug Offenders Were
Estimated to Be
Denied Federal
Postsecondary
Education and
Federally Assisted
Housing Benefits and
Certain Grants and
Contracts

To estimate how many or what percentage of drug offenders were
reported to be denied federal postsecondary education and federally
assisted housing benefits and certain grants and contracts under the
Denial of Federal Benefits Program, we obtained and analyzed data from
agency officials. From ED, we obtained data for several years on the
number of applicants using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
(FAFSA), the number of these who reported a disqualifying drug offense
conviction, the number eligible for Pell Grants, and the number receiving
Pell Grants and student loans. We analyzed these data to generate our
estimates of the number of those that reported disqualifying drug offenses
that would have been eligible to receive Pell Grants and student loans. We
also obtained Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data that reported on the
educational attainment of nationally representative sample of offenders on
probation. We used these data, along with USSC data on sentenced drug
offenders and BJS data on drug offenders released from prison, to assess
the education levels of drug offenders. To identify factors that could
contribute to the number of drug offenders denied federal postsecondary
education benefits, we interviewed officials at ED about federal
regulations, guidance, and rulings pertaining to the eligibility to receive
benefits. Appendix III describes in more detail our methods for estimating
the education of those denied education benefits.
From a nonprobability sample of some of the largest public housing
agencies (PHA) in the United States, we obtained information about
reported actions taken in 2003 in these PHAs to deny persons federally
assisted housing benefits for reasons of drug-related criminal activities.

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology

We selected large agencies because of the volume of actions that they take
in a given year and to provide indications of the range of outcomes in
PHAs in different settings with different populations. We also obtained and
analyzed data from HUD on persons reportedly evicted from or denied
admission into public housing for reasons of criminal activities. From
selected PHAs, we obtained, analyzed, and compared termination and
admissions policies and procedures used during 2003 or 2004 to deny
federally assisted housing to persons involved in drug-related criminal
activities. We also spoke with staff from selected research organizations,
national associations, and PHAs to review the eligibility criteria to receive
federal benefits. Appendix IV describes our methods for assessing denials
of federally assisted housing.
From the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), we obtained data on drug
offenders reported to have been denied federal benefits under the Denial
of Federal Benefits Program. We spoke with officials at BJA about the
current operations and plans to enhance the program, and we interviewed
officials from USSC and AOUSC about the operations of this program. We
also interviewed ONDCP officials about the array of federal provisions
that provide for denial of federal benefits and federal programs that
provide for drug treatment for drug offenders. Appendix V describes our
methodology for analyzing the Denial of Federal Benefits Program.

Estimating the
Percentage of
Convicted Drug
Felons That Would
Have Been Eligible to
Receive TANF or
Food Stamps and the
Factors Contributing
to These Estimates

Data limitations concerning the actual number of persons denied TANF
and food stamp benefits required us to develop estimates of the drug
offenders that could be denied these benefits in that they had
characteristics that would have allowed them to qualify to receive the
benefits except for their drug offense convictions. To determine the extent
to which drug offenders were otherwise qualified or eligible to receive
federal benefits, we identified key elements of the eligibility to receive
federal benefits. We met with officials at the federal agencies responsible
for administering TANF—the Department of Health and Human Services—
and food stamps—the U.S. Department of Agriculture—to discuss issues
related to eligibility to receive these benefits. We obtained and analyzed
data from BJS on the characteristics of drug offenders in prison, and we
applied this information to the number of drug offenders released from
prison during 2001 in states that fully implemented the ban on TANF. To
determine the current status of states that have opted out of or modified
federal provisions banning TANF and food stamp benefits to persons
convicted of drug felony offenses, we reviewed state laws and contacted
officials at USDA (which annually surveys states about the status of their
laws in relation to the ban on food stamps) and state officials in states that

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology

have modified the federal ban on TANF or food stamps to discuss the
status of their provisions regarding the exemptions under their state laws.
Appendix II provides detailed information on our methodology for
assessing the TANF and food stamps bans.

Data Sources Used in
Preparing This Report

From the following sources, we obtained, assessed the reliability of, and
analyzed data related to denial of federal benefits that we used in
developing estimates of the impacts of the federal provisions. To assess
the reliability of the data, as needed, we interviewed agency officials about
the data systems, reviewed relevant documentation, and conducted
electronic tests of the data. We determined that the data were sufficiently
reliable for the purposes of this report. The data sources included

•

Bureau of Justice Assistance: Data on the number of drug offenders
reported to BJA by state and federal courts as having been denied federal
benefits under the Denial of Federal Benefits Program from 1991 to 2004.

•

Bureau of Justice Statistics:

•

•

Survey of Inmates of State Correctional Facilities in 1997: We used
these data to estimate the number of convicted drug felons in prison
that were parents of minor children, lived with their children prior to
their incarceration, and had incomes within state earned income limits.
We used these estimates to assess the impacts of the provisions
allowing for the denial of TANF and food stamp benefits.

•

National Corrections Reporting Program, 2001: We used these data to
obtain counts of the number of drug offenders released from prison
during 2001 in selected states. We also used these data to provide
estimates of the level of education completed from drug offenders
released from prison during 2001 and in developing our estimates of
the impacts of the TANF and food stamps provisions.

•

Survey of Adults on Probation, 1995: We used these data, from the
only national source of data on the characteristics of adults on
probation of which BJS is aware, to learn about the education levels of
drug offenders on probation and in developing estimates of the impact
of denying federal postsecondary education assistance.

Selected state corrections and court officials: For selected states that fully
implemented the ban on TANF and food stamps, we obtained data on the
numbers of convicted drug felons released from prison in during 2001. We

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology

used these data in developing estimates of the impacts of TANF and food
stamps.
•

Department of Housing and Urban Development: We obtained and
analyzed data from HUD’s Public Housing Assessment System (PHAS) and
Management Operations Certification Assessment System (MASS) for
fiscal years 2002 and 2003 on the number of public housing residents
evicted because of criminal activities (of which drug-related criminal
activities form a subset), and of the numbers denied admission into the
Public Housing Program for reasons of criminal activities.

•

Seventeen of the 40 largest PHAs in the nation: We requested information
from the 40 largest PHAs about the number of decisions they made during
2003 to deny federally assisted housing to tenants and applicants for
reasons of drug-related criminal activities, and we obtained data from 17
of these PHAs. Not all 17 PHAs provided responses to all of our questions;
therefore, we reported data only on the PHAs that were able to provide
data relevant to the question under review. We selected these PHAs from
among the 1,531 PHAs that managed both Public Housing and Housing
Choice Voucher (HCV) programs as of August 31, 2004. We asked them for
information about denials of federally assisted housing for reasons of
drug-related criminal activities, and we also asked them to provide these
data based on the race of tenants and applicants. HUD does not collect
this information. We used these data in describing the number of persons
denied federally assisted housing and in providing information about the
race of persons denied federal housing benefits.

•

Department of Education: We obtained and analyzed data on the number
of students applying for federal postsecondary assistance for academic
years 2001-2002, 2002-2003, and 2003-2004. In addition, we obtained data
on the percentage of these applicants who were eligible to receive Pell
Grants and of these, the percentage that received them, and we also
obtained data on the percentage of applicants who received student loans.
We used these data in developing estimates of the impact of the denial of
federal postsecondary education assistance.
In addition, we used published statistical reports from various agencies
such as BJS; Uniform Crime Reports data on drug abuse violation arrests
by state; Department of Health and Human Services reports on the
characteristics of TANF recipients; USDA reports on food stamp
recipients; and the United States Sentencing Commission’s 2003
Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics.

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Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology

Impacts of the Federal
Provisions on Racial
Minorities and Long-Run
Impacts of Denying
Federal Benefits

We were asked to address the impacts of the federal benefit denial laws on
racial minorities and the long-term impacts of denying federal benefits on
individuals that were denied, their families, and their communities.
Although very limited, the available information on these issues is
summarized in appendices II through V.
To determine the extent of data on the race of persons affected by the
denial of federal benefit provisions, we asked the officials that we
interviewed about their knowledge of data on the race of persons denied
federal benefits. We also spoke with researchers and officials at various
organizations about their knowledge of available data. To address data
limitations of HUD data on persons denied federally assisted housing
because of drug-related criminal activities, we requested, obtained, and
analyzed data provided by 17 of the largest PHAs in the nation on the race
of persons denied housing for reasons of drug-related criminal activity.
To determine the current research and data on the potential economic and
social impacts of the loss of federal benefits on individuals, families, and
communities, we conducted literature searches to identify and review
existing studies that have measured the impacts of the denial of federal
benefits on drug offenders and families. We interviewed experts to
understand how the incentives for drug treatment, as provided in the laws
that deny benefits, are likely to affect drug addicts’ behavior, and we
obtained their views regarding the effects that incarceration and drug
convictions might have on a drug felon’s potential employment and
earnings.
We conducted our work from March 2004 to July 2005 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards.

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix II: Denial of TANF and Food
Stamps Benefits: Legal Framework and
Methodologies

Appendix II: Denial of TANF and Food
Stamps Benefits: Legal Framework and
Methodologies
This appendix describes the legal and administrative framework for
denying TANF and food stamp benefits to convicted drug felons and our
methods for estimating the percentage of convicted drug offenders that
would have been eligible to receive TANF and food stamps but for their
drug felony convictions.

Legal and
Administrative
Framework

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act
(PRWORA)1 of 1996 provides that persons convicted of certain drug felony
offenses are banned for life from receiving TANF and food stamp benefits.
Specifically, Section 115 of PRWORA, as amended, provides that an
individual convicted (under federal or state law) of any offense that is
classified as a felony by the law of the jurisdiction involved and that has as
an element the possession, use, or distribution of a controlled substance
shall not be eligible to receive TANF assistance or food stamp benefits.
The prohibition applies if the conviction is for conduct occurring after
August 22, 1996.2
TANF assistance includes benefits designed to meet a need family’s
ongoing, basic needs (for example, for food, clothing, shelter, utilities,
household goods, and general incidental expenses) and includes cash
payments, vouchers, and other forms of benefits.3 TANF assistance
excludes short-term episodic benefits that are not intended to meet
recurrent or ongoing needs and that do not extend beyond 4 months. The
federal prohibition on TANF assistance to convicted drug felons does not
apply to TANF “nonassistance” benefits, which include benefits meant to
assist an individual’s nonrecurring emergency needs.4 TANF nonassistance
can include drug treatment, job training, emergency Medicaid medical
services, emergency disaster relief, prenatal care, and certain public health
assistance.

1

Pub. L. No. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105 (1996) (codified at 21 U.S.C. § 862a).

2

See 21 U.S.C. § 862a(d)(2).

3

See 45 C.F.R. § 260.31. The federal prohibition does not extend to assistance from a state’s
own separate assistance funds such as State Maintenance of Effort (MOE) funds. MOE
funds are funds that states are required maintain at certain historical state expenditure
levels in order to receive their full TANF block grants.
4

As defined at 45 C.F.R. § 260.31(b).

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix II: Denial of TANF and Food
Stamps Benefits: Legal Framework and
Methodologies

The Food Stamp Program provides benefits in the form of electronic
benefit cards, which can be used like cash for food products at most
grocery stores. Eligible households receive a monthly allotment of food
stamps based on the Thrifty Food Plan, a low-cost model diet plan based
upon National Academy of Sciences’ Recommended Dietary Allowances.
For persons between the ages of 18 and 50 who are also viewed as fit to
work and who are not the guardians of dependent children, PRWORA
provides for a work requirement or a time limit for receiving food stamp
benefits. The provision is known as the Able-Bodied Adults without
Dependent (ABAWD) provision. ABAWD participants in the food stamp
program are limited to 3 months of benefits in a 3-year period unless they
meet certain criteria.5
PRWORA provides that states may enact a legislative exemption removing
or limiting the classes of convicted drug felons that are otherwise affected
by the federal ban on TANF and food stamps. State laws providing for
exemptions need to have been enacted after August 22, 1996.
The Office of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) within
the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides federal
oversight of the TANF program. TANF is funded by both federal block
grants and state funds, but states are responsible for determining benefit
levels and categories of families that are eligible to receive benefits. State
eligibility requirements establish earned income limits, and other rules,
and these requirements may vary widely among the states.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)
provides oversight for the Food Stamp Program, which is the primary
federal food assistance program that provides support to needy
households and to those making the transition from welfare to work.
Eligibility for participation is based on the Office of Management and
Budget federal poverty guidelines for households. Most households must
meet gross and net income tests unless all members are receiving TANF or
selected other forms of assistance.6 Gross income cannot exceed 130

5

To be exempt from the ABAWD provisions, an otherwise able-bodied person must either
(1) live in local areas that provide for a waiver to the ABAWD provision; (2) live in a state
that utilizes provisions from the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (Pub. L. No. 105-33, 111 Stat.
251, 252 (1997) (codified at 7 U.S.C. § 2015(o)(6)) that allows for the exemption of up to 15
percent of those ineligible to receive benefits under the ABAWD provision; or (3) meet her
or her local jurisdiction’s work requirements that provide for an exception to the ABAWD
limits.
6

Eligibility requirements are less stringent for elderly disabled persons.

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix II: Denial of TANF and Food
Stamps Benefits: Legal Framework and
Methodologies

percent of the federal poverty guideline (or about $1,313 per month for a
family of two and $1,654 per month for a family of three in 2004), and net
income cannot exceed 100 percent of the poverty guideline (or about
$1,010 per month for a family of two and $1,272 per month for a family of
three in 2004). “Gross income” means a household’s total, nonexcluded
income before any deductions have been made. “Net income” means gross
income minus allowable deductions. Allowable deductions include a 20
percent deduction from earned income, dependent child care deductions,
and medical expenses, among others.
According to officials at ACF and FNS, states may implement the
provisions to deny convicted drug felons TANF and food stamps in a
variety of ways. Some states administer the denial of benefits by requiring
applicants to admit to disqualifying felony drug offense convictions at the
time that they apply for benefits. Also according to agency officials,
neither agency regularly collects and assesses data on the number of
persons that self-certify disqualifying drug offenses.7

State Exemptions to
the Federal Bans on
TANF and Food
Stamps

We reviewed documentation provided by USDA and for states that
exempted some or all convicted drug felons from the federal ban on food
stamps, we reviewed states’ laws pertaining to the exemption and we
contacted officials to determine the status of their state’s exemptions to
the federal bans on TANF and food stamps. Table 5 shows these statuses
and for states that have enacted exemptions, provides citations to the state
laws.

7

Both agencies review case files to determine if individuals that were ineligible to receive
the benefits received them in error, and these reviews may uncover whether a disqualified
drug offender received benefits. In its 2002 report to ACF on closed cases, the state of
Maryland reported that it closed 3 cases (out of the 17,861 cases that it closed during 2001)
because of an individual’s disqualifying felony drug conviction.

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Appendix II: Denial of TANF and Food
Stamps Benefits: Legal Framework and
Methodologies

Table 5: Status of States on the TANF and Food Stamp Ban as of 2004
State

TANF status

Food stamp status

State exemptions laws (effective date)

Alabama

Ban

Ban

Alaska

Ban

Ban

Arizona

Ban

Ban

Arkansas

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

Ark. Code Ann. § 20-76-409 (July 1997)

California

Ban

Modify the ban

Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 18901.3 (September 2004)

Colorado

Modify the ban

Opt Out

Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 26-2-305, 26-2-706 (July 1997)

Connecticut

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17b-112d (July 1997)

Delaware

Ban

Modify the ban

Florida

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

Georgia

Ban

Ban

Hawaii

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

Del. Code Ann. tit. 31, § 605 (July 2003)
a

Fla. Stat. Ann. ch. 414.095 (May 1997)
Haw. Rev. Stat. § 346-53.3 (June 1997)

Idaho

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

Idaho Code § 56-202 (July 2000)

Illinois

Modify the ban

Opt out

730 Ill. Comp. Stat 5/1-10 (June 1997)

Indiana

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

Ind. Code § 12-20-16-6 (July 2003)

Iowa

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

Iowa Code § 239B.5 (October 1997)

Kansas

Ban

Ban

Kentucky

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

Ky. Rev. Stat Ann. § 205.2005 (July 1998)

Louisiana

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

La. Rev. Stat. Ann. 46:233.2(July 1997)

Maine

Opt out

Opt out

Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 22, §§ 3104(14), 3762(17)
(April 2002)

Maryland

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

Md. Ann. Code 88A, §§ 50A, 65 (July 2000)

Massachusetts

Modify the ban

Opt out

2001 Mass. Adv. Legis. Serv. 177, § 4400-1000
(December 2001) (reenacted annually )

Michigan

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

1997 Mich. Pub. Acts 109, § 622 (August 1997)
(reenacted annually)

Minnesota

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

Minn. Stat. § 256J.26 (July 1997)

Mississippi

Ban

Ban

Missouri

Ban

Ban

Montana

Ban

Ban

Nebraska

Ban

Modify the ban

Neb. Rev.Stat. § 68-1017.02 (August 2003)

Nevada

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

Nev. Rev. Stat § 422.29316 (January 1998)

New Hampshire

Opt out

New Jersey

Modify the ban

New Mexico

Opt out

New York

Opt out

Opt out
b

N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 167:81-a (August 1997)

Modify the ban
Opt out

d

Opt out

Page 33

b, c

N.J. Stat. Ann. § 44:10-48 (January 1997)
N.J. Stat. Ann. § 44:10-48.1(January 2000)
N.M. Stat. Ann. § 27-2B-11(C) (March 2002)

d

1997 N.Y. Laws § 121436 (August 1997)
(reenacted annually)

GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix II: Denial of TANF and Food
Stamps Benefits: Legal Framework and
Methodologies

State

TANF status

Food stamp status

State exemptions laws (effective date)

North Carolina

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 108A-25.2 (July 1997)

North Dakota

Ban

Ban

Ohio

Opt out

Opt out

Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 5101.84 (September 1997)

Oklahoma

Opt out

Opt out

1997 Okla. Sess. Laws 414 § 28 (September 1997)

Oregon

Opt out

Opt out

Or. Rev. Stat. § 411.119 (July 1997)

Pennsylvania

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

62 Pa. Stat. § 405.1(i) (February 2004)

Rhode Island

Opt out ,

South Carolina

Ban

e

f

e

Opt out ,

g

Ban

f

R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 40-5.1-8, 40-6-8
(Modify: July 1997, Opt-out: July 2004)

g

South Dakota

Ban

Ban

Tennessee

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

Texas

Ban

Ban

Utah

Modify the ban

Opt out

Utah Code Ann. § 35A-3-311 (July 1997)

Vermont

Opt out

Opt out

1997 Vt. Laws 61, § 131 (June 1997)
(reenacted annually)

Virginia

Ban

Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 71-3-154, 71-5-308 (July 2002)

Ban
h

h

Opt out ,

i

Washington

Modify the ban

West Virginia

Ban

Ban

Wisconsin

Modify the ban

Modify the ban

Wyoming

Ban

Ban

Wash. Rev. Code § 74.08.025
(modify: April 1997; opt out: March 2004)
Wis. Stat. §§ 49.79, 49.145, 49.148 (October 1997)

Source: GAO analysis of state laws as of January 2005 and U.S. Department of Agriculture state reports
a

Our analysis of Florida law and conversations with state officials led to our classification of Florida as
a state that has exemptions that modified the food stamp ban. This classification differs from the
USDA classification, which identifies Florida as a state that fully implements a lifetime ban on food
stamps for convicted drug felons. The discrepancy in classifications may arise from the different
methods used to determine Florida’s status. Annually, USDA surveys states and asks them to report
their status of implementing the ban. Our analysis of Florida law, on the other hand, identifies
exemptions that may not have been reported in the survey.
b

Provision enacted in 1997.

c

1997 provision modified in 2000.

d

New York provides for drug use screening of all assistance recipients and conditions eligibility on
further assessment and treatment where social services officials find them necessary. N.Y. Soc. Serv.
§ 132.
e

Modified in July 1997.

f

Opted out in July 2004.

g

Some authorities have classified South Carolina as a modification state (see S.C. Code Ann. § 43-51190). However state officials report that no specific exemption to the federal ban has been enacted
in South Carolina.
h

Modified in April 1997.

i

Opted out in March 2004.

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There are several general types of modifications to the federal ban on
TANF and food stamps among the states that have modified the ban.
These modifications may include one or more of the following elements:
(1) removing from the ban drug felons convicted for drug use or simple
possession, but implementing the ban for drug sellers or traffickers (e.g.,
possession with intent to distribute offenses); (2) restoring benefits to
drug felons complying with drug treatment program requirements;
(3) restoring benefits so long as drug felons have negative drug test results
over some period of time; and (4) restoring benefits to drug felons after
various waiting periods, such as a number of years after conviction or
release from prison. State modifications may also include other
conditions. For example, Michigan allows convicted drug felons to receive
benefits provided they do not violate the terms of their parole or probation
and other conditions are met. Tables 6 and 7 show the types of
modifications that states have adopted for the TANF and food stamp bans,
respectively. These tables present general categories of different
modifications, not an exhaustive listing of all specific requirements. For
more detail consult the statutes listed in table 5.
Table 6: Types of State Exemptions (Modifications) to the Federal Ban on TANF, by
States within the Types of Modifications, as of 2004
Eligibility to participate in TANF restored
To drug users but not to drug traffickers
Arkansas
Florida
New Jersey

a

Conditional upon undergoing required drug treatment
Colorado

b

Hawaii
Iowa
Illinois

c

Kentucky
Nevada

a

Pennsylvania
Tennessee

d

Utah
Washington

e

Conditional upon not failing required drug tests
Maryland

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Eligibility to participate in TANF restored
Minnesota

g

Wisconsin
Following a waiting period
Louisiana

a, h

Massachusetts
North Carolina

h

i

Conditional upon not violating conditions of parole or probation supervision
Connecticut
Idaho
Michigan

g

For a 12-month maximum if felon participates in a drug court
Indiana
Source: GAO analysis of selected states’ statutes as of January 2005, and information from state corrections and court offices.
a

State also requires drug testing (or demonstration of no drug use in Nevada).

b

State requires individuals to take action toward rehabilitation, such as, but not limited to, drug
treatment.
c

State requires either a 2-year waiting period or participation in drug treatment, and also restricts the
exemption to drug offenders who are not class X or class 1 felons.

d

State restricts exemption to drug offenders who are not class A felons.

e

State also requires there be no more than one conviction in a 3-year period.

f

For current recipients, state also imposes a 1-year ban from date of drug conviction.

g

State also requires payments must be made to vendors or authorized representatives.

h

State imposes a 1-year waiting period.

i

State imposes a 6-month waiting period and also requires drug treatment.

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Table 7: Types of State Exemptions or Modifications of the Federal Ban on Food
Stamps, by States within the Types of Modifications, as of 2004
Eligibility to participate in food stamps restored
To drug users but not to drug traffickers
Arkansas
California

a
a, b

Delaware
Florida
Nebraska

a

Conditional upon undergoing required drug treatment
Hawaii
Iowa
Kentucky
Nevada

b

New Jersey

b

Pennsylvania
Tennessee

c

Conditional upon not failing required drug testing
Maryland

d

Minnesota

e

Wisconsin
Following a waiting period
f

Louisiana

North Carolina

g

Conditional upon not violating conditions of probation or parole supervision
Connecticut
Idaho
Michigan

e

For a maximum of 12 months if felon participates in a drug court; available only through
July 1, 2005, unless extended
Indiana
Source: GAO analysis of selected states’ laws and officials from state corrections departments court offices.
a

State also requires drug treatment.

b

State also requires drug testing (or demonstration of no drug use in Nevada).

c

State restricts exemption to drug offenders who are not class A felons.

d

For current recipients, state also imposes a 1-year waiting period from the date of the conviction.

e

State will also impose a 1-year ban from date of drug convictions for current recipients

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f

State imposes a 1-year waiting period and also requires a negative drug test result.

g

State imposes a 6-month waiting period and also requires drug treatment.

Estimating the Percentage of Drug Arrests within States That
Implement, Modify, or Opt Out of the Bans on TANF and Food
Stamps
To obtain a general assessment of the degree to which state decisions to
modify or opt out of the federal bans on TANF and food stamps exempt
drug felons from the federal ban, we estimated the percentage of drug
arrests that occurred within three groupings of states: (1) those that fully
implement the bans, (2) those that have modified them, and (3) those that
have completely opted out of the bans. We used drug arrests as a proxy for
drug convictions, as state-level data on the number of drug felony
convictions are not available. We analyzed data from the 2002 Crime in
the United States: Uniform Crime Reports on the number of persons
arrested for drug offenses in each of the 50 states. Table 8 reports the
relative distributions of drug arrests for the states falling into each
category for the TANF and food stamp bans.
Table 8: Number of States in Each TANF and Food Stamp Ban Status Category and
Percentage of Drug Offense Arrests in 2002 Occurring in the States within Each
Ban Status Category
TANF ban
TANF/food
stamp ban
status category

Food stamp ban

Number of
a
states

Percentage of
a
drug arrests

Number of
a
states

Percentage of
a
drug arrests

Implement the
ban fully

18

43.8%

15

22.0%

Modified the ban

23

46.6%

20

57.1%

Opted out of the
ban

9

9.6%

15

20.9%

50

100.0%

50

100.0%

Total

Source: GAO analysis of Uniform Crime Report data for 2002.
a

Excludes the District of Columbia.

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Methods for
Estimating the
Percentage of Drug
Felons Potentially
Affected by the TANF
and Food Stamp Bans

To assess the potential impacts of the bans on TANF and food stamps, we
estimated the percentage of a population of drug felons released from
prison that would be eligible to receive TANF, and but for their drug
offense conviction could receive the benefit. By potentially affected, we
refer to convicted drug felons that we estimated met selected eligibility
criteria to participate in these benefit programs. According to our use of
the term “impact,” only those drug felons who were otherwise eligible to
receive benefits actually stood to lose benefits as a result of the bans, and
could therefore be affected by the bans.
To determine the percentage of drug felons that met selected eligibility
criteria, we used data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Survey of
Inmates of State Correctional Facilities in 1997. This survey is based
upon a nationally representative sample of persons in state prisons during
July 1997. The 1997 data represent the most recently available data from
this recurrent survey, which BJS conducts about every 5 years. We used
information from the survey about prisoners’ parental status, employment,
and income prior to incarceration in developing our estimates of the
percentages of drug offenders that were custodial parents and had
incomes within allowable maximums to qualify for the benefits.
For both benefits, we provide estimates that are based on drug offenders
released from prison during 2001 in the subset of states that fully
implemented either the ban on TANF or food stamps. To the extent
possible, we limited the data on drug offenders released from prison to
those who entered prison during 1997 or thereafter. This allowed for a
period of time between the possible date that a drug felony offense was
committed and the date that an offender entered prison, and in this way,
we took into account the implementation date of the ban, which was
August 22, 1996.
Because of data limitations, we did not attempt to develop estimates for
states that modified the bans. For example, some states’ exemptions to the
bans allow that convicted drug offenders may receive benefits (provided
that they are eligible for them) if they do not fail a drug test, if they
undergo required drug treatment, if they do not violate conditions of
probation or parole supervision, or if they meet certain other conditions.
The data that we used did not include this information; therefore, we
could not estimate the potential impacts of the bans in the states that
modified the bans.
We developed estimates of the potential impact of these bans on the
population of released prisoners for 1 year, 2001, the most recent year for

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which we obtained data. We did not attempt to develop estimates for all
persons potentially affected by the bans since they went into effect during
1996. We discuss the problems associated with estimating all persons
potentially affected by the bans in a later section of this appendix.
Data and Methods Used to Estimate the Potential Impacts of the
TANF Ban
To estimate the potential impacts of the TANF ban, we obtained data from
states on drug felons released from prison, and using these data, we
applied estimates of the percentages that met selected TANF eligibility
requirements. These methods are described more fully below.

Methods to Obtain StateSpecific Data on the
Number of Drug Felons
Released from Prison

For 14 of the 18 states that fully implement the ban on TANF, we obtained
data on the number of drug offenders released from prison during 2001.
We used two sources of data: (1) the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National
Corrections Reporting Program (NCRP) and (2) data from selected other
states. From NCRP, we obtained counts of the number of drug felons
released from prison during 2001, given that they were committed into
prison in 1997 or thereafter for a new conviction that contained a drug
offense. We chose 1997 because the TANF ban went into effect on August
22, 1996, and data on the date that ex-prisoners committed their drug
offense—which is the factor that determines whether they are under the
ban—were not available in the data that we used. From the other states,
we obtained comparable data on the number of drug offenders released
from prison.
The 14 states for which we obtained data were Alabama, Arizona,
California, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North
Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The 14 states account for approximately 97 percent of the population in
the 18 states that maintain the ban on TANF for drug felons. For the 4
states that were excluded from our analysis—-Alaska, Delaware, Montana,
and Wyoming—we were unable to obtain data on released prisoners. We
also excluded from our analysis states that may have implemented the ban
in 2001 but as of January 2005 had modified or opted out of the ban.
Across the 14 states, about 96,000 drug offenders were released from
prison during 2001, given that they had been admitted during 1997 or
thereafter. This population of all drug felons released from prison includes
those who were sentenced to prison following their conviction for a drug
offense, and it also includes offenders who entered prison because they

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had violated conditions of supervision. Among offenders who entered
prison for a violation of conditions of supervision, some may have
committed their offenses before the TANF ban went into effect, and they
would not be subject to the ban. However, some of the released prisoners
who had violated conditions of supervision may have been convicted after
the ban went into effect, but the available information reported only the
date of admission for the violation and not for the original sentence. These
offenders should be included among the population of drug felons that are
subject to the ban. Hence, the population of all released prisoners might
over estimate the number of drug offenders in these 14 states who
committed offenses after the TANF ban had gone into effect.
About 51,000 of the drug offenders released from prison during 2001 were
those who had been admitted into prison during 1997 or immediately after
their conviction. While this population of released drug offenders includes
those whose prison sentence occurred after the ban went into effect, this
number may under estimate the number of drug felons in these states who
were subject to the ban. It may do so because it will exclude the parole
violators who had initially been committed after 1997 but whose most
recent commitment was for a violation of parole that also occurred after
1997.8
About 87 percent of all drug offenders released from prison during 2001 in
the 14 states for which we obtained data were males, as were about 86
percent of the first releases. Females constituted 13 percent of all releases
and 14 percent of first releases (table 9).

8

Our estimates of the percentage of drug felons that meet selected eligibility conditions are
relatively unaffected by whether we base them on all drug offenders released from prison
or on first releases only.

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Table 9: Estimated Number of Drug Felons Released from Prison during 2001, in 14
of 18 States That Currently Maintain the Ban on TANF

Number of prisoner
releases

Percentage
distribution of
prisoner releases

Total

95,940

100%

Males

83,528

87%

Females

12,412

13%

All drug felons released from prison

a

First releases of drug felons from a new court commitment
Total

51,332

100%

Males

44,230

86%

7,092

14%

Females

Source: GAO analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics National Corrections Reporting Program data for 2001 and data from selected
states.

Note: The 14 states are Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri,
Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. The 4
excluded states are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, and Wyoming. We also excluded states that
implemented the ban in 2001 but have since modified or opted out of the ban.
a
New court commitments include only those offenders who were sentenced to prison on a new
conviction for a drug offense.

Methods of Estimating the
Percentage of Drug Felons
That Meet TANF Eligibility
Requirements

To receive TANF assistance, an assistance unit (such as a household) must
meet the state-mandated definition of a needy family: It must either
contain at least one child living with an adult relative or consist of a
pregnant woman. The adult guardian must be related to the child by blood,
adoption, or marriage (or, if the state provides, the adult may stand in for
parents if none exist). Further, TANF recipients must in general be either
U.S. citizens or qualified aliens who entered the United States prior to the
passage of PRWORA on August 22, 1996, or who have lived in the United
States for a period of 5 years. States may also impose other conditions for
receipt of TANF benefits.
We used data from the 1997 version of the BJS Inmate Survey to estimate
the percentage of drug offenders who were custodial parents and who had
monthly incomes within state-determined earned income limits. For
estimation purposes, we defined a drug offender in the inmate survey as a
custodial parent if the offender met three conditions: (1) reported being
the parent of at least one minor child, (2) reported living with the child
prior to being incarcerated, and (3) reported that the child was not in
foster care or agency care while the offender was in prison. We computed
the number of prisoners who met these conditions, and from these counts,

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we estimated the percentages of drug offenders that met these conditions.
As the data were drawn from a sample, we used weighting factors
provided by BJS that were based on the original probabilities of being
selected into the sample that were adjusted for nonresponse and
information about the sex, race, age, prison security level, and type of
offense of the total prison population to produce national-level estimates.
We estimated the percentages separately by gender and region of the
country. Table 10 shows our estimates of the percentage of convicted drug
felons that were reported to be parents and custodial parents (based on
our definition) of minor children.
Table 10: Estimated Parental Status of Drug Offenders, by Gender and Region of
the Country

Gender and region of
drug offenders

Percentage of drug
Percentage of drug
offenders that were
offenders that were custodial parents of minor
a
parents of minor children
children

Female offenders
Northeast

64.1%

35.1%

Midwest

69.9%

48.1%

South

66.4%

44.6%

West

62.5%

29.9%

Male offenders
Northeast

61.4%

24.5%

Midwest

66.6%

31.0%

South

65.0%

29.1%

West

65.3%

30.8%

Source: GAO analysis of BJS Survey of Inmates of State Correctional Facilities, 1997.
a
We defined custodial parents as inmates that had minor children, lived with them prior to their
incarceration, and whose children were not in foster care or agency care while they were
incarcerated.

We also estimated the income distributions for drug offender parents who
reported living with their children. In the BJS survey, income is reported
as the offender’s total income in the month prior to the arrest leading to
the incarceration. Monthly income can be from any source and may
include illegal income. We omitted from our analysis those offenders who
reported income from illegal sources, and we included only offenders who
reported earned income or who were unemployed prior to their
imprisonment. Offenders who were unemployed prior to their
imprisonment received a value of zero for earned income. We estimated

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the income distributions separately by gender and region to account for
differences in employment and earnings between male and female
offenders, and offenders in different states. We applied the regional
income distributions to all states within a region, as the BJS data did not
report the state in which the offender was incarcerated.
From the income distributions, we estimated the gender-specific
percentages of drug offenders who had incomes at or below statedetermined earned income limits. The BJS inmate survey data report
income in intervals, and in many cases, the intervals do not correspond
directly with the state earned income limits. Therefore, we selected
income intervals that were as near to the state earned income limits as
feasible. We generally selected two income intervals for each state: one
that contained the state earned income limit level but whose lower bound
was less than the state level, and one that contained the state earned
income limit but whose upper bound was above the state level. In this
way, we obtained upper- and lower-bound estimates of the potential
impacts of the TANF ban.
To obtain estimates of the percentage of drug offenders released from
prison who were both custodial parents and were income eligible for
TANF, as defined above, we applied the gender-specific estimates of the
percentage of prisoners in each region of the country that met the specific
TANF eligibility criteria to state-specific counts of the number of drug
felons released from prison. We used the region of the country within
which a state was located to obtain estimates for a specific state. The
result of these operations was to obtain estimates of the percentage of
drug offenders released from prison who were both custodial parents and
were income eligible for TANF, as defined above. The estimated
percentages of drug offenders released from prison that met these
conditions are shown in table 11.

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Table 11: Estimated Percentages of Drug Offenders Released from Prison in 2001
That Met Selected Guardianship and Earned Income Limits to Receive TANF
benefits
Estimated percentage of drug offenders released
a
from prison that were custodial parents and income
eligible for TANF
Lower bound

Upper bound

Total

13.6%

16.4%

Males

11.7%

14.5%

Females

25.4%

28.4%

Source: GAO analysis of BJS inmate survey data and data for selected states as provided by state corrections and court officials.
a
“Custodial parent” is defined as one who lived with minor children prior to incarceration and whose
minor children were not in foster care while the offender was incarcerated.

Limitations to the Estimates
We were unable to take into account all of the factors that determine
whether drug offenders met the eligibility criteria to receive TANF. Some
of these factors could contribute to reducing the estimated percentages of
drug offenders who were otherwise eligible; others could possibly
contribute to increasing the estimated percentages. In addition, our
estimates for drug offenders released from prison in a given year do not
apply to drug felons who were sentenced to probation. Finally, we are
unable to provide an estimate of the percentage of drug offenders
potentially affected by the ban for the entire period since it was
implemented.

Factors Contributing to a
Decrease in the Percentage
of Drug Felons That Would
Be Otherwise Eligible to
Receive TANF

Data limitations preclude our explicitly taking into account all of the
factors that are related to TANF eligibility. Factors affecting TANF
eligibility for which we do not have data are the citizenship status and
length of residency of noncitizens, state-imposed work requirements to
receive TANF, and individual choices to participate in the program. While
we were unable to estimate the effect of these factors on our estimated
percentages that might have been eligible to receive TANF, these factors
would contribute to lowering our estimates of the percentage of drug
offenders released from prison that might have been eligible to receive
TANF.
Several of the states whose data we analyzed have relatively large
populations of noncitizens. In general, to qualify for TANF, aliens must
have at least 5 years of residence in the United States since August 22,

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1996. Given that our estimates are for 2001, it is unlikely that many aliens
among convicted drug felons would have qualified for TANF. Hence,
taking the alien qualification into account would lower our estimates of
the percentage of drug felons potentially affected by the TANF ban. For
2003, ACF reports that 8 percent of adult TANF recipients were qualified
aliens.
Individuals within needy families who do not participate in statedetermined work requirements could lose their TANF eligibility. Failing to
comply with work requirements would reduce the percentage of drug
offenders that were otherwise eligible to receive TANF.
In the general population, adult males constitute comparatively small
numbers of TANF recipients. According to ACF, in 2001 adult males
constituted about 9 percent of all adult TANF recipients. If we applied the
general population adult male TANF recipiency rate to our estimates of
the percentage of all drug offenders released from prison, our estimated
impact of the TANF ban would be revised downward to about 4 percent of
all of drug offenders released from prison in 2001.

Change in Status after
Release from Prison Could
Increase the Percentage of
Drug Felons Affected by
the Ban

One factor that could change the estimated percentage of convicted drug
felons eligible to receive TANF benefits and therefore potentially affected
by the ban is a change in a felon’s eligibility to receive TANF. Our
estimates of the percentage of prisoners that may be eligible to receive
TANF are based on attributes existing at the time that offenders were in
prison. Upon release, these attributes may change, and an offender might
become otherwise eligible for TANF and therefore potentially be affected
by the ban. For example, if a drug offender was reunited with his or her
children after release and met other eligibility requirements, this would
contribute to increasing the percentage of released prisoners that were
eligible to receive TANF. Alternatively, imprisonment may be a factor that
reduces contact with children and therefore contributes to decreasing the
percentage of drug offenders released from prison that are eligible to
receive TANF.

Drug Felons Sentenced to
Probation

In recent years, drug felons sentenced to probation account for about onethird of all convicted and sentenced drug felons. We did not apply the
information about drug offenders in prison to the drug felons sentenced to
probation. This is because we do not have data on the parental and income
characteristics of drug felons sentenced to probation. To the extent the
drug felons sentenced to probation have characteristics similar to those of

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drug felons released from prison, the estimated percentage of probationers
that may be eligible to receive benefits would be similar to those estimated
percentages among released prisoners. However, if income levels and
other factors differ between probationers and prisoners, this could affect
the estimates of the percentages that would be eligible to receive benefits.

Drug Offenders Affected
since the Ban Went into
Effect

We do not provide an estimate of all drug offenders potentially affected by
the ban on TANF since it went into effect. We were unable to obtain data
on the number of persons convicted of drug felonies since the ban went
into effect in 1996, as only limited data are available. Over time, an
individual’s attributes that are related to TANF eligibility may change.
Convicted drug felons who did not have characteristics that would make
them eligible to receive TANF at one point in time could develop these
attributes at a later point in time. Conversely, the circumstances of
convicted drug felons who at one point in time were otherwise eligible to
receive TANF could change so that they are no longer otherwise eligible.
To understand the long-term impacts of the ban therefore would require
data that track individuals over time and measure changes in their
characteristics that are related to TANF eligibility. We know of no such
national data on drug offenders.
Our estimates of the percentage of drug offenders released from prison in
a given year who are potentially affected by the ban represent lowerbound estimates of the proportion of drug offenders released from prison
during that year that would ever be affected by the ban. If, among those
released from prison and estimated not to be eligible to receive TANF, any
persons became eligible at a later date, this would increase the percentage
of persons potentially affected by the ban. Consequently, the long-term
impacts of the ban would be greater than the impacts that we estimated
for the 1-year release cohort. Similarly, if the 1-year estimates of the
percentage potentially affected by the ban were to hold over time, then a
larger percentage of all convicted drug felons would be potentially
affected by the ban since its inception than the percentages that we
estimated for 1 year.
Data and Methods Used to Estimate the Potential Impact of the
Ban on Food Stamps
We focused our analysis of the potential impact of the ban on food stamps
on drug offenders that were reported to be custodial parents of minor
children. According to USDA, in fiscal year 2003, adult households with
children (containing either one or two adults) constituted 73 percent of

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food stamp recipients. Consequently, this is likely to be the largest group
of drug offenders that could be affected by the food stamp ban. We were
unable to develop a quantitative estimate of the percentage of able-bodied
adults without dependents (ABAWD) that could be affected by the food
stamp ban. ABAWDs, in general, may receive food stamps for 3 months
within a given 3-year period or longer if they adhere to the work
requirements specifically laid out for ABAWDs. However, we were unable
to determine which drug offenders constituted the potential pool of
ABAWDs. We further gave the potential ABAWDs recipients separate
consideration because, according to USDA reports, in 2003, they
constitute 2.5 percent of food stamp recipients nationwide even though
they form a large share of the general population of such persons. We also
did not attempt to develop an estimate of the impact of the ban for elderly
and disabled drug offenders.
For 2003, USDA reported that adult households with children (containing
either one or two adults) constitute 73 percent of food stamp recipients. In
contrast, elderly individuals living alone constitute 6 percent of food stamp
recipients, and disabled nonelderly individuals living alone constitute 5
percent of food stamp recipients. Single-adult households—which
according to USDA do not contain children, elderly individuals, or
disabled individuals—constitute 6 percent of food stamp recipients.
Therefore, adult households with children receive food stamps at a rate
greater than 12 times the rate at which single-adult households receive
food stamps. The percentage of single adult households receiving food
stamps is higher than the percentage of ABAWDs receiving food stamps
because an individual is not considered an ABAWD if the person is
pregnant, exempt from work registration, or over 50 years of age.9
For 12 of 15 states that maintain the full ban on food stamps, we obtained
data on the drug felons released from prison during 2001 (given that they
entered prison during 1997 or thereafter). The 12 states are Alabama,
Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South
Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. The 3 excluded
states for which we were unable to obtain data were Alaska, Montana, and
Wyoming. A total of 67,000 drug offenders were released in 2001 in the 12

9

Since ABAWDs cannot be older than 50, and USDA defines an elderly person as being 60
or older, someone who is over 50 and under 60 is considered neither an ABAWD nor
elderly.

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Appendix II: Denial of TANF and Food
Stamps Benefits: Legal Framework and
Methodologies

states, and of these, 30,000 were first releases from new court
commitments.
We used the BJS inmate survey data to estimate the percentage of drug
felony prisoners who were parents living with their minor children and
whose children were not in foster care while they were incarcerated. This
was our operational definition for a custodial parent. For these, we
estimated the percentage who had gross incomes within the poverty
thresholds, based on estimates of family size. Food stamp eligibility is
based on gross and net income tests. Because data on the deductions that
are used in determining whether households meet the net income tests
were not available, our estimates are at best gross income tests. We are
unable to determine how our use of the gross income test alone affects our
estimates of the percentage of drug felons released from prison that would
have been eligible to receive food stamps.
In general, ABAWDs may receive food stamp benefits for an extended
duration as long as they meet ABAWD-specific work requirements. This
means that a large percentage of drug felons could be eligible to receive,
and therefore potentially be denied, food stamps as long as they fell within
the income threshold to receive food stamps. However, among all food
stamp recipients, ABAWDs constitute only 2.5 percent of the total. Hence,
while we cannot estimate the percentage of ABAWDs within the drug
offender pool that would be otherwise eligible to receive food stamps, the
ABAWD participation rate in food stamps in general would suggest that
relatively few drug offenders who fall into this category would participate
in the program.

Data on the Race of
Drug Offenders Who
Meet Selected TANF
Eligibility Criteria

We assessed the impacts of the denial of TANF and food stamp benefits by
estimating the percentage of convicted drug felons released from prison
who were otherwise eligible to receive the benefits. To assess whether
impacts vary by race, we first assessed whether the percentage of drug
offenders who met the same eligibility requirements that we used to assess
the overall impacts of the TANF and food stamp bans varied according to
race. For example, if larger proportions of black than white drug offenders
were custodial parents of minor children and had earned income that
permitted them to qualify for TANF, then we would expect to find larger
percentages of black drug offenders to be affected by the TANF ban,
regardless of the racial composition of the group of all drug offenders
released from prison.
We used the BJS inmate survey data to compare the estimated percentages
of black and white drug offenders who were custodial parents (as we

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Appendix II: Denial of TANF and Food
Stamps Benefits: Legal Framework and
Methodologies

defined the term previously) and had earned incomes that could qualify
them to receive TANF. As before, we estimated these percentages by
gender and region. Our estimates indicated that in one region (the South),
the percentage of black female drug offenders who were otherwise eligible
to receive TANF differed from the percentage of otherwise eligible white
female drug offenders. A larger percentage of black female drug offenders
in that region were estimated to be eligible to receive TANF than white
female drug offenders in the region. Among male drug offenders, we
estimated differences in eligibility for TANF in two regions. For both
female and male drug offenders, the differences in estimated TANF
eligibility arose from differences in incomes, as there were no differences
in the percentage of black and white drug offenders that were estimated to
be custodial parents.

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Appendix III: Denial of Federal
Postsecondary Education Benefits to Drug
Offenders

Appendix III: Denial of Federal
Postsecondary Education Benefits to Drug
Offenders
This appendix describes the legal framework for denying federal higher
education benefits to drug offenders, how the federal provision is
administered, our methods for estimating the number of students affected
by the federal provisions, and the impacts of the federal provision.

Legal Framework for
Denying Federal
Higher Education
Benefits

The Higher Education Act of 1965,1 as amended, provides for the
suspension of certain federal higher education benefits to students who
have been convicted for the possession or sale of a controlled substance
under federal or state law.2 The controlled substance offense may be either
a felony or a misdemeanor. Federal higher education benefits that are
denied to such individuals include student loans, Pell Grants,
Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and the Federal WorkStudy program.3
The Higher Education Act provision outlines different periods for which
such drug offenders are ineligible to receive certain federal higher
education benefits, depending upon the type and number of controlled
substance convictions. The period of ineligibility begins on the date of
conviction and ends after a specified interval. Table 12 illustrates the
period of ineligibility for the federal higher education benefits, according
to the type and number of convictions.

1

Pub. L. No. 89-329, 79 Stat. 1219 (1965).

2

See 20 U.S.C. § 2091(r). This provision was added by the Higher Education Amendments of
1998, Pub. L. No. 105-244, 112 Stat. 1581 (1998).
3

Student loans include the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program and the William
D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. Higher education institutions usually participate in
one or the other program. Depending upon the student’s estimated financial need, students
may qualify for subsidized Stafford loans or, irrespective of financial need, unsubsidized
Stafford loans, through either program. Pell Grants are federal grants that are awarded to
students with financial need who have not received their first bachelor’s degree or who are
enrolled in programs that lead to teacher certification or licensure. Supplemental
Educational Opportunity Grants are awarded for the purpose of providing grants to needy
undergraduate students. The Federal Work-Study program provides part-time employment
to needy undergraduate and graduate students attending participating institutions.

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Appendix III: Denial of Federal
Postsecondary Education Benefits to Drug
Offenders

Table 12: Periods of Ineligibility for Federal Higher Education Assistance Based on
Type and Number of Controlled Substance Offense Convictions
Type and number of drug convictions

Period of Ineligibility

Possession of a controlled substance
First offense

1 year

Second offense

2 years

Third offense

Indefinite

Sale of a controlled substance
First offense

2 years

Second offense

Indefinite

Source: GAO analysis of Section 484 of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (see 20 U.S.C. § 1091(r)).

This Higher Education Act provision allows for eligibility for federal
higher education to be restored prior to the end of the period of
ineligibility if either one of two conditions is met. First, a student
satisfactorily completes a drug rehabilitation program that includes two
unannounced drug tests and complies with criteria established by the
Secretary of Education. Second, a student has his or her drug conviction
reversed, set aside, or nullified.

Administration of the
Denial of Federal
Higher Education
Benefits

The provisions of federal law mandating the denial of certain federal
higher education benefits were implemented beginning in July 2000 by
requiring students who applied for federal assistance to self-report
disqualifying drug convictions. Students must self-report disqualifying
drug convictions through the Department of Education’s Free Application
for Federal Student Aid, a form that any student who wishes to receive
federal student aid must complete.4 The FAFSA is available online and is
free to use. ED uses the information that applicants provide on their
FAFSA to determine their eligibility for aid from the Federal Student Aid
(FSA) programs. Colleges and universities in 49 states also use
information from the FAFSA in making their financial aid determinations.
ED provides participating colleges and universities with a formula to use
when making decisions about financial assistance.

4

The FAFSA provides a worksheet that guides students in determining whether they have a
disqualifying drug conviction.

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Appendix III: Denial of Federal
Postsecondary Education Benefits to Drug
Offenders

Applicants who either report that they have a drug conviction that affects
their eligibility or those applicants who do not answer the question about
drug convictions are automatically ineligible to receive federal higher
education assistance in the academic year for which they sought aid.5
(Below, we refer to this group as FAFSA ineligibles.) The drug conviction
worksheet of the FAFSA also notifies students that even though a drug
conviction may render them ineligible to receive federal higher education
assistance in the application year, individuals may still be eligible to
receive aid from their state or their academic institution.

Methods for
Estimating the
Numbers of Persons
and Amounts of
Federal Assistance
Affected by the
Provisions

For several reasons, not all of the FAFSA applicants who self-report a
disqualifying drug conviction would otherwise have been eligible to
receive federal assistance; hence, the number of applications containing
self-reported disqualifying drug offenses overstates the number of persons
denied federal postsecondary education assistance because of a drug
offense conviction.
First, not all FAFSA applicants are eligible to receive all types of federal
postsecondary education assistance. For example, some applicants may
have incomes above the levels required to receive Pell Grants, and even if
they self-reported a disqualifying drug conviction, they would not have
been eligible to receive Pell Grants. Second, ED officials indicated that not
all FAFSA applicants become enrolled in postsecondary education
institutions, and these applicants are not eligible to receive federal
postsecondary education assistance. Third, some individuals may
complete the FAFSA application more than one time, and by counting only
the number of applications, some individuals may be double-counted.
To assess the impacts of the Higher Education Act’s provisions that render
students with disqualifying controlled substances convictions ineligible to
receive federal postsecondary education assistance, we estimated the
number of students who self-reported a disqualifying drug offense and,
absent the controlled substances convictions provisions of the Higher
Education Act, would have been qualified to receive assistance but
because of the provisions would not have received assistance.

5

This rule did not apply to applicants during the 2000-2001 academic year, the first year that
the drug conviction question appeared on the FAFSA. During 2000-2001, students who did
not answer the question were permitted to receive federal aid.

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Appendix III: Denial of Federal
Postsecondary Education Benefits to Drug
Offenders

We developed estimates of the number of applicants for Pell Grants and
subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans (two of the best-funded federal
postsecondary education assistance programs) and the total amounts of
assistance lost, because of their self-reported controlled substances
convictions. Our methods for estimating these quantities are as follows:
•

•

•

•

To estimate the number of students who were denied Pell Grants in a
given year, we use ED data on the number of FAFSA applicants that
either self-reported a disqualifying drug offense conviction or left this
question blank, the group that we labeled as FAFSA ineligibles.
As applicants must meet needs-based criteria to make them eligible to
receive Pell Grants, we then use ED data on the percentage of FAFSA
applicants that were eligible to receive Pell Grants; we call this second
group Pell Grant eligibles.
We use ED data on the percentage of Pell Grant eligibles that actually
received Pell Grants, as not all of the students who were eligible to
receive Pell Grants received them. By multiplying these quantities, we
obtained a rough estimate of the number of persons who, absent the
disqualifying drug offense conviction, would have received Pell Grants.
To estimate the dollar amount of Pell Grants that these recipients
would have received, we multiplied the average amount of Pell Grants
(which we obtained from ED) by the estimated number of students
denied Pell Grants.

To estimate the number of student loan recipients who were denied
assistance because of disqualifying drug convictions, we followed a
method similar to the one that we used to estimate the numbers denied
Pell Grants.
•

•

Specifically, beginning with the data on FAFSA ineligibles, we applied
to this number the percentage of all FAFSA applicants that received a
student loan. We could not obtain an estimate of the number of FAFSA
applicants that were eligible to receive student loans because, as ED
reports, unlike Pell Grants, where there are income limitations that can
be used to determine eligibility, with student loans, eligibility is
determined by both income and institution-specific factors (such as
tuition). Thus, our estimate is of the number of FAFSA ineligibles that
would have received a student loan but for their controlled substances
convictions.
To estimate the amount of student loans denied, we multiplied our
estimate of the number denied student loans by the average amount of
a student loan.

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Appendix III: Denial of Federal
Postsecondary Education Benefits to Drug
Offenders

Critical Assumptions in
Estimating the Number of
Pell Grant and Student
Loan Recipients Denied
Federal Benefits because
of Disqualifying Controlled
Substances Convictions

In order to create our estimates for the number of individuals who would
have received a Pell Grant or a student loan if not for their drug
conviction, we assume that the characteristics of FAFSA eligibles are the
same as the characteristics of FAFSA ineligibles. This assumption means
that the percentage of FAFSA applicants who are eligible to receive
federal higher education assistance should be the same for FAFSA
ineligibles (apart from the drug conviction).
Income is an important determinant of eligibility for both Pell Grants and
student loans. Specifically, financial need is determined by ED using a
standard formula established by Congress to evaluate the applicant’s
FAFSA and to determine the student’s Expected Family Contribution
(EFC). The EFC calculation includes various data elements including
income, number of dependents, net assets, marital status, and other
specified additional expenses incurred. Different assessment rates are
used for dependent students, independent students without dependents,
and independent students with dependents. After filing the FAFSA, a
student is notified if he or she is eligible for a federal Pell Grant and of the
student’s EFC.
On the one hand, if FAFSA ineligibles on average have lower incomes than
FAFSA eligibles, then our estimates of the number of students denied
benefits are likely to be underestimates of the true number denied
benefits. This is because we rely on the information about eligibility for
Pell Grants and student loans from the persons who were eligible to
receive them, not from the population who are otherwise eligible but for
their disqualifying drug convictions. On the other hand, if FAFSA
ineligibles are less likely to be enrolled in postsecondary education
institutions, as compared with FAFSA eligibles, then our estimates of the
number denied benefits are likely to overestimate the true number denied
benefits.

Data Used to Estimate the
Numbers and Amounts
Denied Federal Assistance

Table 13 shows the data that we used to estimate the numbers and
amounts of federal postsecondary education assistance that was forgone
to students who, absent their controlled substances convictions, would
have received federal postsecondary education assistance. The data are
provided annually for academic years 2001-2002 through 2003-2004. The
key data elements used to estimate the numbers and amounts of federal
assistance denied include
•
•

the number of FAFSA applicants and FAFSA ineligibles,
the percentage of Pell Grant eligibles among all FAFSA applicants,

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Appendix III: Denial of Federal
Postsecondary Education Benefits to Drug
Offenders

•
•
•
•

the percentage of Pell Grant recipients among Pell Grant eligibles,
the average amount of Pell Grant received,
the percentage of FAFSA applicants that received student loans, and
the average amount of student loan received.

The number of FAFSA ineligibles declined from 58,929 in academic year
2001-2002 to 41,061 in academic year 2003-2004.6 We note that FAFSA
ineligibles amount to less than 0.5 percent of all FAFSA applications.
Table 13: Data Used to Estimate the Number of Persons Denied Federal Education Assistance because of Drug Convictions
and Estimated Amount of Federal Assistance Denied
Academic year
2001-2002

2002-2003

2003-2004

10,961,421

12,021,249

13,009,596

58,929

42,537

41,061

Self-reported drug conviction

48,642

37,451

34,914

Drug conviction question not answered

10,287

5,086

6,147

0.5%

0.4%

0.3%

Percentage of Pell Grant eligibles among FAFSA applicants

51.5%

52.4%

58.0%

a

Percentage of Pell Grant recipients among Pell Grant eligibles

76.9%

75.9%

77.0%

a

Average amount of Pell Grant

$2,298

$2,436

$2,467

b

70.0%

70.0%

a

Number of FAFSA applications
FAFSA ineligibles

FAFSA ineligibles as a percentage of all FAFSA applicants
Pell Grant eligibles, recipients, and amounts

Stafford student loan recipients and amounts

c

Percentage of FAFSA applicants receiving student loans

70.0%

a

a

Average amount of student loan
Subsidized loan

$3,378

$3,405

$3,469

b

Unsubsidized loan

$3,970

$4,063

$4,162

b

Sources: GAO analysis of FAFSA data provided by the Department of Education’s FSA Central Processing System; Department of
Education data on Pell Grant and student loan recipients.
a

Estimates provided by the Congressional Budget Office.

b

Estimates provided by the Department of Education.

c

The amounts that may be borrowed are the same whether a student receives a Stafford Loan
through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program or through the William D. Ford Federal
Direct Loan Program.

6

We excluded from this analysis the data for academic year 2000-2001, in which 9,605
persons self-reported a disqualifying drug offense, but more than 278,000 left the question
blank. Those who left the question blank in 2000-2001 were deemed eligible to receive
federal assistance.

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Appendix III: Denial of Federal
Postsecondary Education Benefits to Drug
Offenders

Estimates of the
Numbers and
Amounts of Federal
Assistance Affected
by Controlled
Substances
Convictions

In the academic years from 2001-2002 through 2003-2004, we estimated
that between 17,000 and 23,000 students were denied Pell Grants because
of their drug convictions, and that the total estimated amount of Pell
Grants that these students would have received ranged from $41 million to
$54 million. See table 14.
Table 14: Estimated Number of Persons Denied Federal Education Assistance
because of Drug Convictions and Estimated Amount of Federal Assistance Affected
Academic year
2001-2002
Number of FAFSA ineligibles

58,929

2002-2003

2003-2004

42,537

41,061

Estimated number and amounts of Pell Grants denied
Estimated number of students denied Pell
Grants because of drug convictions, but
who otherwise would have received them

23,000

17,000

18,000

Estimated amount of Pell Grant denied to
students

$54 million

$41 million

$45 million

41,000

30,000

29,000

$139 million

$101 million

$100 million

$164 million

$121 million

$120 million

Estimated number and amounts of student loans denied
Estimated number of students denied
student loans because of drug
convictions, but who otherwise would
have received them
Estimated amount of student loans
a
denied to students
Lower-bound estimate
Upper-bound estimate
Source: GAO analysis of Department of Education data.
a
Lower-bound estimates were calculated using subsidized loan amounts, and upper-bound estimates
were calculated using unsubsidized loan amounts.

We provide annual estimates of the numbers affected because the period
of benefit ineligibility can vary, and a student denied benefits in one year
may become eligible to receive benefits in a subsequent year. Thus, the
estimates for one year do not necessarily affect the estimates for another
year.
In academic year 2001-2002, there were 58,929 FAFSA ineligibles. During
that same year 51.5 percent of FAFSA applicants were eligible to receive
Pell Grants, and 76.9 percent of those who were eligible received Pell
Grants (as shown in table 13). Multiplying the 58,929 by the 51.5 percent
and then multiplying this result by the 76.9 percent results in the estimate
of 23,000 individuals denied Pell Grants who otherwise would have
received them. To obtain the amount of Pell Grant lost to these students

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Appendix III: Denial of Federal
Postsecondary Education Benefits to Drug
Offenders

during academic year 2001-2002, we multiplied our estimated number of
students denied Pell Grants (23,000) by the average amount of a Pell Grant
in academic year 2001-2002 ($2,298).
Table 14 also shows that between academic year 2001-2002 and academic
year 2003-2004, an estimated 29,000 to 41,000 students per year would have
received student loans if not for their drug convictions. The estimated total
amount of student loans forgone by these students ranged between $100
million and $164 million per year.

Estimates of the Impacts
of the President’s
Proposed Changes to the
Rules for Denying Drug
Offenders’ Federal
Postsecondary Education
Assistance

The President’s fiscal year 2005 budget contained a proposal that would
have changed the administration of the Higher Education Act provision
relating to eligibility for federal higher education benefits. Federal law
disqualifies students who have been convicted of controlled substance
offenses, in accordance with the period of ineligibility in table 12, from
receiving federal higher education assistance.7 As currently implemented
by the Department of Education, disqualifying convictions are those drug
convictions on a student’s record at the time the student’s eligibility is
being determined, using the rules on the FAFSA worksheet.8 Under the
President’s proposal—which was supported by the Office of National Drug
Control and Prevention—students would be ineligible for federal higher
education assistance only if they committed a disqualifying drug-related
offense while they are enrolled in higher education. This proposed change
would make eligible all students whose controlled substance convictions
occurred prior to enrolling in higher education.
Because of data limitations, we are unable to provide reliable estimates of
the impacts of the proposed changes contained in the President’s fiscal
year 2005 budget proposal. However, we expect that the proposal would
lower our estimates for the numbers of students denied benefits because
some individuals would regain their eligibility for benefits, and relatively
few students enrolled in postsecondary education institutions would be
expected to both use drugs and be convicted of drug crimes.

7

20 U.S.C. § 1091(r).

8

64 Fed. Reg. 38,504, 38,505 – 38,506 (1999).

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Appendix III: Denial of Federal
Postsecondary Education Benefits to Drug
Offenders

Limited Data on the
Long-Term Impacts of
Denying Federal
Postsecondary
Education Assistance

While studies consistently show that the economic returns to higher
education are positive, we cannot establish a direct link between the
denial of federal postsecondary aid to students and a reduction in the
amount of postsecondary education completed by those who were denied
aid. Moreover, officials at ONDCP also suggested that the provisions of the
Higher Education Act that provide for denying educational aid to drug
offenders might contribute a deterrent effect on drug use. Similarly, we
were unable to identify studies that assess whether provisions of the HEA
actually helped to deter drug use. Additionally, we are unable to address
the question of whether these provisions of the HEA that deny higher
education benefits to drug offenders result in net positive or negative
effects on society because we were unable to find research that
conclusively indicates whether these provisions of the HEA led individuals
to forgo postsecondary education or deterred individuals from engaging in
drug use and drug-related criminal activities.
Additional formal education—e.g., completing high school or attending or
completing postsecondary education—has been demonstrated to increase
annual and lifetime earnings. In its review of the returns to education, the
U.S. Census Bureau concluded that increases in formal education had a
positive impact on annual earnings. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau
reported that for full-time workers between the ages of 25 and 64 between
1997 and 1999 the average annual income for those who have not
completed high school is $23,400, for high school graduates it is $30,400,
and for those completing a bachelor’s degree it is $52,200. Average annual
income rises higher yet for those who obtain advanced degrees.
This general pattern, that increases in formal education correlate with
increases in annual earnings, also holds true across an individual’s
lifetime. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the average lifetime
earnings, based upon 1997-1999 work experience, for those who have not
completed high school is approximately $1 million, for high school
graduates it is $1.2 million, and for those completing a bachelor’s degree it
is $2.1 million. Again, the average lifetime earnings rise higher yet for
those who obtain advanced degrees. Hence, college graduates can expect,
on average, to earn nearly twice as much over a lifetime as those persons
who have only a high school diploma and more than twice as much as
those who have not completed high school.
Similarly, a study published by the congressional Joint Economic
Committee in January 2000 concluded that there is a strong consensus
among economists that formal education has a positive impact not only on
personal income but also on society. The study concluded that among the

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Appendix III: Denial of Federal
Postsecondary Education Benefits to Drug
Offenders

positive societal economic returns from increases in formal education are
the creation of new knowledge (translating into the development of new
processes and technologies) and the diffusion and transmission of
knowledge (translating into the expansion of innovative techniques such
as those found in the high-technology sector). Positive societal
noneconomic improvements are also associated with increased amounts
of formal education, which help Americans become better mothers,
fathers, children, voters, and citizens. These positive noneconomic
improvements are sometimes called positive neighborhood effects. Some
of the positive neighborhood effects may be (1) more informed and
interested voters, (2) decreases in crime, (3) decreased dependence upon
certain types of public assistance, and (4) decreased incidence of
illegitimate pregnancies.
Although the census study and the study conducted by the Joint Economic
Committee show positive economic and societal impacts of increased
levels of education, the total net impacts of these benefits are difficult to
quantify.9 Moreover, these studies do not comment on whether the loss of
federal education assistance (as occurs for drug offenders through the
provisions of the HEA) contributes to individuals’ not completing
postsecondary education, or whether those individuals who are denied
federal education assistance generate the necessary funding to attend
institutions of higher education in other ways.
Also at issue is whether the provisions of the HEA that deny
postsecondary education benefits to drug offenders contribute positively
to society by providing a deterrent to drug use. Research on the costs to
society from drug use, and drug-associated criminal involvement,
demonstrated that these costs to society are high. Therefore, if the denial
of federal higher education benefits deters people from engaging in drug
crimes, then the provisions might have positive economic and
noneconomic impacts on society. Some of the positive affects of
deterrence may include reductions in drug-related health care costs,
reductions in drug-related crime and associated criminal justice costs, and
increased national economic productivity. In addition, for many offenders
and in particular for first-time drug offenders, the denial of postsecondary
education benefits may delay entry into postsecondary education rather
than prevent it.

9

Joint Economic Committee, United States Congress, Investment in Education: Private
and Public Returns (Washington, D.C.: January 2000).

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Appendix III: Denial of Federal
Postsecondary Education Benefits to Drug
Offenders

Limited Data on
Racial Minorities and
the Denial of Federal
Postsecondary
Education Benefits

With the available data, we were unable to determine whether the
provisions of the Higher Education Act that provide for denial of
postsecondary education benefits would affect relatively larger or smaller
numbers of minorities. The FAFSA does not request information about
applicants’ race; therefore ED does not have data on the racial distribution
of applicants or FAFSA ineligibles. Without data on the race of applicants
for federal student aid, it is not possible to determine whether minorities
are denied aid at higher rates than whites.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Survey of Adults on Probation in 1995,
which is the only national survey of probationers that includes data on the
type of offense of conviction and educational attainment, indicates that
there may be racial differences in the levels of educational attainment of
drug offenders. The survey indicates that black and Hispanic drug
offenders on probation complete high school at a lower rate than white
drug offenders on probation. Specifically, while 68 percent of white drug
offenders on probation had completed high school, 51 percent of black
and 46 percent of Hispanic drug offenders on probation had completed
high school. As completing high school (or gaining a general equivalency
degree) is a prerequisite for enrollment in postsecondary education, these
data suggest that lower proportions of black and Hispanic drug offenders
(at least drug offenders on probation) would be eligible to enroll in
postsecondary educational institutions and would therefore be eligible for
federal higher education assistance.

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Appendix IV: Denial of Federally Assisted
Housing Benefits for Drug-Related Criminal
Activity

Appendix IV: Denial of Federally Assisted
Housing Benefits for Drug-Related Criminal
Activity
This appendix provides background on the legal and administrative
frameworks for denying federally assisted housing benefits to persons
who engage in drug-related criminal activities, our methods for estimating
the numbers of persons denied benefits, and how we assessed the
available data on racial minorities and the limited information on potential
impacts.

Legal Framework
Relating to the Denial
of Housing Benefits
for Drug-Related
Criminal Activity

Federal law contains a variety of provisions relating to the denial of
federally assisted housing benefits for certain types of drug-related
criminal activity. These provisions relate to, among other things, (1) who
may lose eligibility for federally assisted housing benefits because of drugrelated criminal activity and (2) screening tools for the providers of
federally assisted housing to use to determine ineligibility for such housing
benefits. Motivation for prohibiting drug offenders from public housing is
reflected, in part, in congressional findings made in 1990 and amended in
1998, about drug-related criminal activities in public housing; these
findings stated, in part, that (1) “drug dealers are increasingly imposing a
reign of terror on public and other federally assisted low-income housing
tenants,” (2) “the increase in drug-related crime not only leads to murders,
muggings, and other forms of violence against tenants, but also to a
deterioration of the physical environment,” and (3) “the Federal
government has a duty to provide public and other federally assisted lowincome housing that is decent, safe, and free from illegal drugs.”1
Public housing agencies, which are typically local agencies created under
state law that, under Department of Housing and Urban Development
guidance, manage and develop public housing units for low-income
families, are required, for example, to utilize leases that provide that any
drug-related criminal activity on or off the premises by a public housing
tenant shall be cause for termination of the tenancy.2 This provision also
specifically applies to drug-related criminal activity by any member of the
tenant’s household or any guest or other person under the tenant’s control.
Similarly, federal law requires PHAs and owners of federally assisted
housing to establish standards or lease provisions that allow for the

1

42 U.S.C. §11901.

2

The term “drug-related criminal activity” means the illegal manufacture, sale, distribution,
use, or possession with intent to manufacture, sell, distribute, or use a controlled
substance—as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. § 802). 42
U.S.C. § 1437d(l). With respect to termination of tenancy, see 42 U.S.C. § 1437d(l)(6).

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termination of the tenancy or assistance for any household with a member
who the PHA or owner determines is illegally using a controlled
substance.3 Federal law further specifies that tenants evicted from
federally assisted housing by reason of drug-related criminal activity are to
be ineligible for federally assisted housing for a 3-year period, although
evicted tenants that successfully complete an approved rehabilitation
program may regain their eligibility before the 3-year period ends.
Under federal law and implementing regulations, PHAs have the discretion
to evict tenants for drug-related criminal activity but are not required to
evict such tenants. Rather, they are required to use leases that provide that
any drug-related criminal activity on or off the premises by a public
housing tenant shall be cause for termination of the tenancy.
Implementing regulations by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development relating to termination provide that a determination of such
criminal activity may be made regardless of whether a person has been
arrested or convicted of such activity and without satisfying a criminal
conviction standard of proof of the activity.4
With respect to methamphetamine convictions, PHAs are required under
federal law to establish standards to immediately and permanently
terminate a tenancy as well as permanently prohibit occupancy in public
housing for persons convicted of certain methamphetamine offenses
occurring on public housing premises. PHAs do not have discretion in
evicting these persons, and the standards also require that Housing Choice
Voucher Program (formerly Section 8 low-income housing) participation
be denied to such persons.
Federal law also provides various screening tools to assist with
determining possible ineligibility of tenants and applicants for federally
assisted housing benefits because of drug-related criminal activity. These
tools come primarily in the form of access to certain types of information.
For example, under federal law, housing assistance agencies are
authorized to request access to criminal conviction records from police
departments and other law enforcement agencies for the purposes of

3

42 U.S.C. § 13662(a). This provision further provides for the termination of tenancy or
assistance to a household with a member whose illegal use (or pattern of illegal use) of a
controlled substance, among other things, is determined by the PHA or owner to interfere
with the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents.
4

24 C.F.R. § 5.861.

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applicant screening, lease enforcement, and eviction. PHAs have the
authority under certain conditions to request access to such information
with respect to tenants and applicants for the Housing Choice Voucher
Program. Public housing authorities are also authorized under federal law
to require that applicants provide written consent for the public housing
authorities to obtain certain types of records, such as criminal conviction
records and drug abuse treatment facility records.5

HUD and PHA Roles
in Denying Federally
Assisted Housing
Benefits for Reasons
of Drug-Related
Criminal Activities

HUD is responsible for establishing the rules and providing guidance to
PHAs in their administration of federally assisted housing benefits. PHAs
can manage a single program or multiple HUD programs. HUD’s Office of
Public and Indian Housing oversees the two key rental housing assistance
programs that we reviewed, namely the Low-Rent Public Housing
Assistance Program (also referred to as low-rent, or public housing) and
the HCV Program.
During the 1990s, PHAs gained broader latitude from HUD and Congress
to establish their own policies in areas such as selecting tenants.6 This
included increased latitude in taking actions to deny federally assisted
housing benefits to persons receiving housing benefits and to applicants
for benefits. HUD requires PHAs to submit for its review and approval
annual plans that include, among other things, their policies for continuing
occupancy and denying admission for drug-related criminal activities.
Recent HUD guidance regarding denying federal housing benefits to
persons engaged in drug-related criminal activities was issued in its “Final
Rule,” dated May 2001.7 The rule amended existing regulations regarding
implementing the federally assisted housing tenant eviction and applicant
screening provisions for drug-related criminal activities.

5

See 42 U.S.C. § 1437d, subsections (q), (s), and (t) for provisions related to PHA authority
to obtain criminal history information.
6

GAO, Public Housing: Small and Larger Agencies Have Similar Views on Many Recent
Housing Reforms, GAO-04-19 (Washington, D.C.: October 30, 2003).
7

66 Fed. Reg. 28,776 (2001) (codified at 24 C.F.R. Part 5, among others).

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PHAs’ Policies to Address
Drug-Related Criminal
Activities Vary

Termination and admission policies can vary substantially among PHAs
nationwide. In a baseline study (November 2000) of a stratified random
sample of the PHAs that were responsible for managing federally assisted
housing units in the HCV Program, HUD reviewed the discretionary
authority among PHAs.8 HUD reported that the variation among PHAs in
conducting criminal background checks could legitimately result in an
applicant being barred by one PHA even though the applicant could
otherwise be admitted by another PHA. Some of the variations reported in
the study include differences in (1) the sources used to obtain information
about criminal history and drug-related criminal activities (e.g., newspaper
stories, resident complaints, self-disclosure, official law enforcement
records—federal, state, local); (2) the costs (paid by the PHA) associated
with obtaining official law enforcement criminal background records; (3)
the time span covered by the criminal history search; and (4) whether
consideration is given to repeat offenses, only convictions, or arrests and
convictions.
We obtained and reviewed policies from seven of the largest PHAs having
combined programs—Public Housing and HCV.9 Our review of their
policies with respect to terminations and admissions for drug-related
criminal activities showed variations in the policies established to deny
housing benefits. For example, policies regarding terminations of leases
(for public housing tenants) or termination of assistance (for HCV
recipients) vary in how they implement the drug-related criminal activity

8

See Devine, Deborah J., Barbara A. Haley, Lester Rubin, and Robert W. Gray, The Uses of
Discretionary Authority in the Tenant-Based Section 8 Program: A Baseline Inventory of
Issues, Policy, and Practice, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development, November 2000. HUD used a stratified random sample of 167 PHAs out of
1,786 that managed 100 or more units of Section 8 housing. These 1,786 represented 70
percent of the 2,553 PHAs, but they also represented 98 percent of all units managed by
PHAs in the Section 8 program. The sample was stratified on PHA size (four categories)
and seven regions.
9

We mailed a request for information to 40 of the nation’s largest PHAs in which we
requested data about denying federally assisted housing for reasons of drug-related
criminal activities. We report on these data in subsequent sections. We also requested that
the PHAs provide us with copies of policies and procedures used during 2003 for
terminating leases or assistance as well as screening applicants for admissions. Seven
PHAs provided copies of their 2003 or 2004 policies; listed alphabetically, these were the
Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority, Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority,
Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, Housing Authority of the County of San
Diego, Jacksonville Housing Authority, Memphis Housing Authority, and the Metropolitan
Development and Housing Agency of Nashville.

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provisions and in the scope of criminal background that can result in
terminations:
•

•

Drug-related criminal activity provisions can range from certain types
of prohibited behaviors (e.g., those that threaten the health and safety
of other residents) to certain drug convictions (e.g., drug-related
criminal activity, and methamphetamine in particular).
Scope of criminal background can vary by the period of prior criminal
history that can trigger termination of leases or assistance, the type of
prohibited drug-related criminal activities (e.g., personal use, felonious
distribution, etc.), or whether there was a conviction in the case.

Analogously, PHA policies on admissions into public housing or into HCV
can vary based on a number of factors, and these variations in policies can
result in differences among PHAs in the types of drug offenders that are
denied federally assisted housing.
•

•

•

•

Number of Denials of
Federally Assisted
Housing Benefits

Applicant screenings for drug-related criminal activity can occur in
varying forms (such as an application, interview, or eligibility
verification) and at varying times—such as before or after placement
on the PHAs’ waiting lists.
Sources of criminal history information used can vary, so some PHAs
cast a wider net than others when searching for prohibited drug-related
criminal activity. Sources can range from using only local law
enforcement records to using Federal Bureau of Investigation/National
Crime Information Center data.
Periods of ineligibility for prior evictions from federally assisted
housing can vary by time frame and criminal activity (e.g., drug-related
or violent). Ineligibility periods ranged from 3 to 5 years.
The evidence standard for drug addiction can vary to include a
reasonable cause to believe illegal drug use exists or self-disclosure of
illegal use on the application itself.

We obtained data from HUD on the number of evictions from and
applicants denied admission into public housing during fiscal years 2002
and 2003 for reasons of criminal activities. In each year, more than 98
percent of the PHAs that manage public housing responded to HUD’s
request for data about security within the units managed by the PHA,
including information on evictions and applicants denied admission.
HUD’s information pertains to persons evicted or denied admission for
reasons of criminal activity; these data do not distinguish between
criminal activity and drug-related criminal activities. The HUD data also do
not include measures of the number of tenants or of the total number of
applicants screened. To adjust for differences in the size of the PHAs, we

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calculated a rate at which applicants were evicted or denied admission
into public housing because of criminal activities that was based on the
number of units maintained by all reporting PHAs. These data are reported
in table 15.
Table 15: Evictions from and Denials of Admission into Public Housing for Reasons
of Criminal Activity, Fiscal Years 2002 and 2003
Fiscal year
2002
Number of PHAs reporting data

2003

3,103

3,113

1,164,089

1,156,735

Number of evictions from public housing for criminal activity

9,083

9,325

Number of applications denied admission into public housing
for criminal activity

49,207

48,853

0.8%

0.8%

4.2%

4.2%

Number of public housing units managed

Evictions and denials as a percent of units managed by PHAs
Evictions as a percentage of units
Denials as a percentage of units

a

a

Source: GAO analysis of HUD Management Operations Certification Assessment System (MASS) data.
a
Data on the total number of tenants or applicants were not reported in the MASS data that we
obtained.

During each of the fiscal years, 2002 and 2003, there were more than 9,000
evictions (amounting to less than 1 percent of all units managed) because
of criminal activities. There were about 49,000 applications for admission
into public housing that were denied for reasons of criminal activities
(amounting to about 4 percent of all units). As drug-related criminal
activities are a subset of criminal activities, these data suggest that even if
all of those evicted from public housing for reasons of criminal activity
had engaged in drug-related criminal activities, terminations leading to
evictions would amount to less than 1 percent of the public housing units
managed by PHAs.

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Selected PHAs Mostly
Report That Relatively
Small Percentages of
Tenants Leases Are
Terminated for Reasons of
Criminal Activity or DrugRelated Criminal Activities

To gauge the extent to which PHAs denied federally assisted housing by
terminating leases (leading to possible evictions) for drug-related criminal
activities, we contacted 40 of the largest PHAs in the country and asked
them to provide data on the number of actions10 that they took to evict
tenants by terminating leases and of these, the numbers that were
terminated for criminal activity and for drug-related criminal activity.11 Of
the 40 PHAs that we contacted, we received data from 17. We assessed the
data that these PHAs provided for reliability.
As shown in table 16, 15 of 17 PHAs that responded to our request
provided data on the total number of public housing termination of leases.
The rate at which PHAs terminated leases for reasons of drug-related
criminal activities varied considerably, from 0 percent in Santa Clara
County to 39.3 percent in Memphis. The Philadelphia PHA, which reported
the largest number of lease terminations (2,324), reported terminating 50
of these leases (or 2.2 percent) for reasons of drug-related criminal
activities. The Santa Clara County PHA terminated the smallest number of
leases (1). Combined, the 13 PHAs that reported both the number of lease
terminations and the number of terminations for drug-related criminal
activities, reported ending a total of 9,249 leases, and 520 of the
terminations (or 5.6 percent of the total) were for drug-related criminal
activities.

10

Actions taken by PHAs reflect decisions to terminate leases and assistance, as discussed
in this section, as well as denying admissions, as discussed in a subsequent section of this
appendix.

11

HUD collects data on lease terminations and denial of admission into public housing
through its Management Operations Certification Assessment System (MASS) data
collection. This system reports the number of such actions taken for reasons of criminal
activities, but it does not report data on the number of actions taken explicitly for reasons
of drug-related criminal activities.

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Table 16: Public Housing Lease Terminations at Selected Public Housing Agencies, by Reason for Termination (Criminal
Activities and Drug-Related Criminal Activities), 2003
Public housing leases
terminated for reasons of
criminal activities

Public housing leases
terminated for reasons of drug-related
criminal activities

Percentage
of
terminations
of leases for
reasons of
criminal
activities

Public housing
lease terminations
(leading to possible
eviction)

Number

Percentage of
all terminations
of leases

Atlanta (GA)

320

78

24.4%

38

11.9%

48.7%

Cincinnati (OH)

721

21

2.9%

13

1.8%

61.9%

1,654

102

6.2%

84

5.1%

82.4%

a

a

Public housing
agency

Cuyahoga County
(OH)

Percentage
of all
terminations
Number
of leases

Indianapolis (IN)

207

36

17.4%

a

Jacksonville (FL)

1,299

70

5.4%

47

3.6%

67.1%

Los Angeles (CA,
City of)

373

109

29.2%

51

13.7%

46.8%

Los Angeles (CA,
County of)

170

51

30.0%

26

15.3%

51.0%

Memphis (TN)

28

17

60.7%

11

39.3%

64.7%

Nashville (TN)

260

148

56.9%

90

34.6%

60.8%

233

133

57.1%

83

35.6%

62.4%

1,720

27

1.6%

20

1.2%

74.1%

New Orleans (LA)
Newark (NJ)
Oakland (CA)

146

35

24.0%

7

4.8%

20.0%

2,324

133

5.7%

50

2.2%

37.6%

65

a

a

a

a

a

San Bernardino
County (CA)

a

8

a

a

a

a

San Diego County
(CA)

a

a

a

a

a

a

1

0

0.0%

0

0.0%

b

Philadelphia (PA)
Portland (OR)

Santa Clara
County (CA)

Source: GAO analysis of data from selected public housing agencies.
a

Data were missing or not reported.

b

Not applicable.

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Further, although the data on lease terminations for reasons of drugrelated criminal activities are not generalizable to all PHAs that manage
public housing program units, the information that they provided on leases
terminated for reasons of drug-related criminal activities, and our
calculation of these numbers as a percentage of terminations for criminal
activities, show wide variation in the extent to which drug-related criminal
activities predominate among all criminal activities that can result in a
termination of a lease. In Cuyahoga County, for example, 82.4 percent of
lease terminations for criminal activity were terminations for drug-related
criminal activities, but in Oakland, 20 percent of the terminations for
criminal activity occurred as a result of drug-related criminal activities. A
majority of the PHAs that reported these data also reported that the
number of lease terminations and the reasons for them (i.e., criminal or
drug-related criminal activities) were similar to or smaller than the
numbers in the prior 3 years.
As shown in table 17, 16 of the 17 PHA respondents were able to provide
some (although often incomplete) data on actions taken to terminate HCV
assistance during 2003. Nine of the 16 PHA respondents were able to
provide data on the number of actions to terminate HCV assistance for
reasons of drug-related criminal activity or criminal activity. However,
only 5 of the 9 respondents were able to provide data on the number of
actions specifically taken to terminate HCV assistance for reasons of drugrelated criminal activity. These 5 PHAs took 9,537 actions related to
terminating HCV assistance, of which 54 (or about 0.6 percent) of such
actions were for terminating assistance for reasons of drug-related
criminal activities.
Four of the 9 PHA respondents were able to provide data on the number of
actions taken to terminate HCV assistance for reasons of criminal activity,
and most, but not all, of them provided (at our request) broad estimates
for drug-related criminal activity based on the total number of actions to
terminate HCV assistance during 2003. These 4 PHAs took a total of 3,166
actions related to terminating HCV assistance, of which 133 actions (or
about 4.2 percent) were for terminating assistance because of criminal
activities. Three of the 4 PHAs estimated less than 25 percent of their total
actions could have been for reasons of drug-related criminal activities, and
1 PHA did not provide an estimate. Applying the upper-bound broad
estimates (25 percent) to each PHA’s total actions would be overstating
terminations for reasons of drug-related criminal activity because the
resulting number is most likely to be equal to or be a subset of
terminations for reasons of criminal activities. From a conservative
perspective, it is conceivable that the 133 actions also represent

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terminations of assistance for reasons of drug-related criminal activity,
thereby establishing a maximum rate of denial at 4.2 percent for reasons of
drug-related criminal activity.
Seven of the 16 PHA respondents provided only the total number of
actions taken to terminate HCV assistance, along with a broad estimate of
the percentages of terminations that could have been for reasons of drugrelated criminal activity. Six of the 7 PHAs reported less than 25 percent of
their total actions could have been for reasons of drug-related criminal
activities, and one reported 51 to 75 percent. Table 17 provides the data on
terminations of assistance from the HCV program.
Table 17: Housing Choice Voucher Program Terminations of Assistance at Selected Public Housing Agencies, by Reason for
Termination (Criminal Activities and Drug-Related Criminal Activities) of Assistance, 2003
HCV terminations for
reasons of criminal activities

HCV terminations for reasons of drugrelated criminal activities
Estimated
Percentage percentage
of all
of all
terminations terminations
of
of
Number
assistance
assistance

HCV
terminations of
assistance

Number

Percentage of all
terminations of
assistance

855

11

1.3%

a

a

< 25%

98

14

14.3%

6

6.1%

b

1,214

14

1.2%

6

0.5%

b

Indianapolis (IN)

247

a

c

a

a

< 25%

Jacksonville (FL)

5,770

26

0.5%

4

0.07%

b

Los Angeles
(CA, City of)

4,468

a

< 25%

c

a

a

< 25%

Los Angeles
(CA, County of)

1,080

a

< 25%

c

a

a

< 25%

3

a

< 25%

c

a

a

51% to 75%

720

a

< 25%

c

a

a

< 25%

New Orleans
(LA)

2,241

a

< 25%

c

a

a

< 25%

Newark (NJ)

8

a

< 25%

c

a

a

< 25%

a

a

51% to 75%

c

a

a

> 75%

1,445

54

3.7%

11

0.8%

b

380

71

18.7%

a

a

a

1,009

47

4.7%

a

a

< 25%

Public housing
agency
Atlanta (GA)
Cincinnati (OH)
Cuyahoga
County (OH)

Memphis (TN)
Nashville (TN)

Oakland (CA)
Philadelphia (PA)
Portland (OR)
San Bernardino
County (CA)

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Activity

HCV terminations for
reasons of criminal activities

HCV terminations for reasons of drugrelated criminal activities
Estimated
Percentage percentage
of all
of all
terminations terminations
of
of
Number
assistance
assistance

HCV
terminations of
assistance

Number

Percentage of all
terminations of
assistance

San Diego
County (CA)

1,010

42

4.2%

27

2.7%

b

Santa Clara
County (CA)

922

4

0.4%

a

a

< 25%

Public housing
agency

Source: GAO analysis of data from selected public housing agencies.
a

Data were missing or not reported.

b

Data reported in previous column.

c

In response to GAO’s request, the PHA estimated the percentage (within certain ranges) of all action
initiated to terminate HCV assistance that could have been taken for reasons of criminal activity.

The majority of PHAs that reported data on terminations from the HCV
program also reported that the number and types of actions that they took
during 2003 were similar to the numbers in the prior 3 years.

Selected PHAs Report That
Relatively Small
Percentages of Applicants
Are Denied Admission for
Reasons of Criminal
Activity or Drug-Related
Criminal Activities

As shown in table 18, 15 of 17 PHAs that responded to our request
provided data on the number of actions taken on applications for public
housing. However, only 6 of the 15 respondents provided data on the
number of actions specifically taken to deny admission into public housing
for reasons of drug-related criminal activity. Collectively, these six PHAs
took action on 11,538 applications, of which 330 (or about 2.9 percent of)
such actions were for denying admissions for reasons of drug-related
criminal activities.
Nine of the 15 PHAs did not provide counts of the number of denials for
reasons of drug-related criminal activity but provided data on the number
of actions taken to deny admission for reasons of criminal activity. In
completing our request, 4 PHAs provided broad estimates of denials for
drug-related criminal activity based on the total number of actions taken
on applications for public housing, and 5 PHAs did not provide estimates.
Collectively, these 9 PHAs reported a total of 17,921 actions related to
applications for admission into public housing, of which 1,081 actions (or
6 percent) were for denying admission for reasons of criminal activities.
On the basis of our assumption that admission denials for reasons of drugrelated criminal activity are most likely to be either a subset of or

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equivalent to the admission denials for reasons of criminal activities, we
estimate that the maximum rate of denial for reasons of drug-related
criminal activity for these PHAs is 6 percent.
Table 18: Selected Public Housing Agencies’ Actions Reported on Applications for Admission and Denials of Admission into
Public Housing for Reasons of Criminal Activities and Drug-Related Criminal Activities, 2003
Public housing applications denied
because of criminal activities

Public housing
agency
Atlanta (GA)

Number of
actions taken on
applications for
public housing

Number

Percentage of all
actions taken on
applications for
assistance

608

56

9.2%

Public housing applications denied
because of drug-related criminal activities
Estimated
Percentage percentage
of all
of all
actions
actions
taken on
taken on
applications applications
for
for
Number
assistance
assistance
a

a

a

Cincinnati (OH)

5,785

359

6.2%

24

0.4%

b

Cuyahoga
County (OH)

2,307

282

12.2%

a

a

< 25%

a

a

Indianapolis (IN)

506

75

14.8%

a

Jacksonville (FL)

970

22

2.3%

a

a

a

Los Angeles
(CA, City of)

3,920

295

7.5%

a

a

< 25%

Los Angeles
(CA, County of)

1,217

44

3.6%

a

a

> 75%

Memphis (TN)

420

157

37.4%

4

1.0%

b

Nashville (TN)

2,093

137

6.5%

127

6.1%

b

New Orleans
(LA)

365

12

3.3%

12

3.3%

b

Newark (NJ)

2,359

600

25.4%

163

6.9%

b

674

59

8.8%

a

a

51% to 75%

a

a

Oakland (CA)
Philadelphia (PA)

5,400

226

4.2%

a

Portland (OR)

2,319

22

0.9%

a

a

a

San Bernardino
County (CA)

a

147

a

a

a

< 25%

San Diego
County (CA)

a

a

a

a

a

a

516

0

0.0%

0

0.0%

b

Santa Clara
County (CA)

Source: GAO analysis of data from selected public housing agencies.
a

Data were missing or not reported.

b

Data reported in previous column.

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As with the other outcomes, the PHAs varied in the extent to which they
reported that applicants were denied admission into public housing for
reasons of drug-related criminal activities, and the majority of PHAs that
provided data for 2003 reported that their activities related to actions and
denials in 2003 were similar to the numbers in the prior 3 years.
As shown in table 19, 14 of the 17 PHA respondents provided some
(although mostly incomplete) data on actions taken on applications for the
HCV program. Nine of the 14 PHAs provided data on the number of denials
of admission into the program for reasons of drug-related criminal
activities or criminal activity. Of the 2 PHAs that provided data on the
number of denials for reasons of drug-related criminal activity, 1 PHA
reported no denials, and the other PHA reported 10 denials out of 1,483
actions taken on applications, or 0.7 percent. Seven PHAs provided data
on the number of denials for reasons of criminal activity. Among these 7
PHAs, there were a total of 20,513 reported actions taken on applicants. Of
these, 303 were denied admission for reasons of criminal activities (or
about 1.5 percent). On the basis of our assumption that admission denials
for reasons of drug-related criminal activity are most likely to be either a
subset of or equivalent to the admission denials for reasons of criminal
activities, we estimate that the maximum for admission denials for reasons
of drug-related criminal activity is 1.5 percent. We could not provide
reliable estimates for the remaining 5 PHAs that reported incomplete data.

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix IV: Denial of Federally Assisted
Housing Benefits for Drug-Related Criminal
Activity

Table 19: Housing Choice Voucher Program, Selected Public Housing Agencies’ Actions Reported on Applications for
Assistance and Denials of Assistance for Reasons of Criminal Activities and Drug-Related Criminal Activities, 2003
HCV denials of assistance for
reasons of criminal activities

Public housing
agency
Atlanta (GA)
Cincinnati (OH)
Cuyahoga County (OH)
Indianapolis (IN)
Jacksonville (FL)
Los Angeles (CA, City
of)
Los Angeles (CA,
County of)
Memphis (TN)
Nashville (TN)
New Orleans (LA)
Newark (NJ)
Oakland (CA)
Philadelphia (PA)

HCV denials of assistance for reasons of
drug-related criminal activities
Estimated
Percentage percentage
of all
of all
actions
actions
taken on
taken on
HCV
HCV
applications applications
for
for
Number
assistance
assistance

Number of
actions
taken on
HCV
applications
for
assistance

Number

Percentage of all
actions taken on
HCV applications
for assistance

3,886

57

1.5%

a

a

< 25%

79

2.5%

a

a

25% to 50%

49

a

a

a

a

3.1%

a

a

25% to 50%

a

a

3,138
a

390

12

4,191

91

2.2%

a

53,426

a

< 25%

d

a

a

< 25%

1,711

a

< 25%

d

a

a

< 25%

0

0

c

0

c

c

990

a

< 25%

d

a

a

< 25%

a

< 25%

1,321

8

0.6%

a

472

a

d

a

a

< 25%

a

a

a

a

a

a

1,483

22

1.5%

10

0.7%

b

a

a

< 25%

1,387

53

3.8%

a

a

a

a

a

a

a

San Diego County (CA)

4,940

a

a

a

a

a

Santa Clara County
(CA)

6,200

3

0.05%

a

a

< 25%

Portland (OR)
San Bernardino County
(CA)

Source: GAO analysis of data from selected public housing agencies.
a

Data were missing or not reported.

b

Data reported in previous column.

c

Not applicable.

d

In response to GAO’s request, the PHA estimated the percentage (within certain ranges) of all action
taken on HCV applications for assistance that could have been for reasons of criminal activity.

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix IV: Denial of Federally Assisted
Housing Benefits for Drug-Related Criminal
Activity

Several Factors Can
Contribute to the
Reported Low
Number of Denials
because of DrugRelated Criminal
Activities, but
Potential Impacts Are
Unclear

Our review of limited data and interviews with those involved in federally
assisted housing suggest a number of factors can contribute to the
relatively low percentages of denials being reported for reasons of drugrelated criminal activities. As noted in a HUD baseline study, variation
among PHAs in conducting HCV criminal background checks could
legitimately result in an applicant being barred by one PHA who would
otherwise be admitted by another PHA. In addition, a HUD official
suggested that the percentages of denials that were reported to us by
selected PHAs can be influenced by whether (1) the PHAs place drug users
at the bottom of their waiting lists, (2) PHAs differ in the treatment of
applicants if a household member rather than the applicant is the subject
of the drug-related criminal activity, and (3) local courts presiding over
eviction proceedings view the PHAs as the housing provider of last resort.
In the last instance, the PHA’s decision to terminate a lease for reason of
drug-related criminal activity may not be upheld.
Moreover, comments made during interviews with selected officials on
matters related to housing were consistent with our analysis of HUD data
on PHA denials for criminal activity, and the relatively low number of
denials for drug-related criminal activity provided to us by selected PHAs.
Regarding the relatively small number of persons whose housing benefits
were reported as terminated or persons denied program participation for
reasons of criminal or drug-related criminal activities, a representative
from the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials
stated that PHAs are not looking to turn away minor offenders (e.g., “the
type of people that may have only stolen a candy bar”) but rather hardened
criminals. On the variation in denials of federally assisted housing for
drug-related criminal activities, the Project Coordinator for the Re-Entry
Policy Council at the Council of State Governments suggested that the
barriers to housing ex-drug offenders revolve around the discretion
afforded PHAs, and that these barriers can best be dealt with at the local
level by making states more aware of the issue, the applicability of the
local rules, and the need for building collegial relationships with PHAs to
develop options for housing ex-felons.
More generally, assessing the impacts of the denial of federal housing
benefits on the housing communities or on the individuals and families
that have lost benefits was beyond the scope of our review, given the
limited data that are available. Officials at HUD reported that they have
not studied this issue, and our review of the literature did not return any
comprehensive studies of impacts. In our opinion, any full assessment of
the impacts of denial of housing benefits to drug offenders would have to
consider a wide range of possible impacts, such as improvements in public

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix IV: Denial of Federally Assisted
Housing Benefits for Drug-Related Criminal
Activity

safety that result from terminating leases of drug offenders; displacement
of crime from one area to another with perhaps no overall (or area-wide)
improvements in crime reduction; as well as the impacts on individuals
and families, to name a few. Any such impact assessments would be
complicated by the market conditions (limited quantity and high demand)
for federally assisted housing and the variation in PHAs’ policies and
practices that would also need to be considered.

Data on the Race of
Persons Denied
Federally Assisted
Housing Were
Infrequently Provided

We requested the PHAs to provide us with data on the race of persons who
were denied federally assisted housing for reasons of drug-related criminal
activities. Of the 17 PHAs that responded to our request, few provided data
by race on (1) the total number of actions taken and (2) those actions that
were specifically for drug-related criminal activity. Only 4 PHAs provided
data by race on public housing terminations, and 3 PHAs provided data by
race on public housing admission denials. Four PHAs provided data by
race on HCV terminations of assistance. Only 1 PHA provided data by race
on HCV admission denials.
From these limited data, we were unable to develop reliable estimates of
racial differences in the frequency of terminations and denials of
admission into federally assisted housing. In some cases, the number
reported as terminated for drug-related criminal activities was too small to
provide stable estimates, and because of the small numbers, the estimates
of racial differences could exhibit large changes with the addition of a few
more cases. For example, only 4 PHAs provided data by race on the
number of leases terminated for reasons of drug-related criminal activities.
In 1 PHA, slightly more than 3 percent of all lease terminations of blacks
were for drug-related criminal activities, while almost 6 percent of all lease
terminations of whites were for drug-related criminal activities. In this
PHA, whites were about one and one half times more likely than blacks to
have their leases terminated for reasons of drug-related criminal activities.
In this PHA, 110 whites had leases terminated during 2003, and 6 of these
terminations were for drug-related criminal activities. In a second PHA,
blacks were three times as likely as whites to have their leases terminated
for reasons of drug-related criminal activities, as 18 percent of blacks and
5 percent of whites had leases terminated for reasons of drug related
criminal activities. But in this second PHA, 19 whites had leases
terminated, and 1 of these was for drug-related criminal activities. An
addition of 2 whites to the number that had leases terminated for drugrelated criminal activities would have almost eliminated the racial
difference.

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix V: Legal and Administrative
Framework for the Denial of Federal Benefits
Program

Appendix V: Legal and Administrative
Framework for the Denial of Federal Benefits
Program
About the Law

The Denial of Federal Benefits Program established under section 5301 of
the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988,1 in general, provides federal and state
court judges with a sentencing option to deny selected federal benefits to
individuals convicted of federal or state offenses for the distribution or
possession of controlled substances. The federal benefits that can be
denied include grants, contracts, loans, and professional or commercial
licenses provided by an agency of the United States.2 Certain benefits are
excluded from deniability under this provision of the law; these include
benefits such as social security, federally assisted housing, welfare,
veterans’ benefits, and benefits for which payments or services are
required for eligibility.3 Federally assisted housing, TANF, and food stamp
benefits may be denied to drug offenders under other provisions of federal
law. (See app. II for more information on the denial of TANF and food
stamp benefits, and see app. IV for more information on the denial of
federally assisted housing benefits.)
Federal and state court sentencing judges generally have discretion to
deny any of the deniable benefits for any length up to those prescribed by
the law, with the exception of the mandatory denial of benefits required
for a third drug trafficking conviction. More specifically, depending upon
the type of offense, and conviction and the number of prior convictions,
the law provides for different periods of ineligibility for which benefits can
or must be denied. As the number of convictions for a particular type of
drug offense increases, so does the period of ineligibility for which
benefits can or must be denied. Table 20 shows these periods.

1

Pub. L. No. 100-690, 102 Stat. 4310 (1988) (codified at 21 U.S.C. § 862).

2

The term “Federal benefit” is defined at 21 U.S.C. § 862(d)(1) to mean “any grant, contract,
loan, professional license, or commercial license provided by an agency of the United
States or by appropriated funds of the United States.”
3

The term “Federal benefit,” under 21 U.S.C. § 862(d)(1), specifically excludes “any
retirement, welfare, Social Security, health, disability, veterans benefit, public housing, or
other similar benefit, or any other benefit for which payments or services are required for
eligibility.”

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix V: Legal and Administrative
Framework for the Denial of Federal Benefits
Program

Table 20: Periods of Ineligibility for Which Benefits Can or Must Be Denied under
Section 5301 of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, as Amended
Type of conviction offense
Number of convictions

Drug possession

Drug trafficking

First conviction

Up to 1 year

Up to 5 years

Second conviction

Up to 5 years

Up to 10 years

Third conviction

a

Permanent ineligibility

Source: GAO analysis of provisions of section 5301 of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, as amended.
a

No period of ineligibility is listed for drug possession offenses with three or more convictions.

With respect to first-time drug possession convictions, a court may impose
certain conditions, such as the completion of an approved drug treatment
program, as a requirement for the reinstatement of benefits. In addition,
the sentencing court continues to have the discretion to impose other
penalties and conditions apart from section 5301 of the Anti-Drug Abuse
Act of 1988.
Section 5301 of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, as amended, also
provides that under certain circumstances, the denial of benefits penalties
may be waived or suspended with respect to certain offenders. For
example, the denial of benefits penalties are not applicable to individuals
who cooperate with or testify for the government in the prosecution of a
federal or state offense or are in a government witness protection
program.4 In addition, with respect to individuals convicted of drug
possession offenses, the denial of benefits penalties are to be “waived in
the case of a person who, if there is a reasonable body of evidence to
substantiate such declaration, declares himself to be an addict and
submits himself to a long-term treatment program for addiction, or is
deemed to be rehabilitated pursuant to rules established by the Secretary
of Health and Human Services.”5 Also, the period of ineligibility for the
denial of benefits is to be suspended for individuals who have completed a
supervised drug rehabilitation program, have otherwise been rehabilitated,
or have made a good faith effort to gain admission to a supervised drug
rehabilitation program but have been unable to do so because of

4

21 U.S.C. § 862(e).

5

21 U.S.C. § 862(b)(2).

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix V: Legal and Administrative
Framework for the Denial of Federal Benefits
Program

inaccessibility or unavailability of such a program or the inability of such
individuals to pay for such a program.6

Administration of the
Law

State and federal sentencing judges generally have discretion to impose
denial of federal benefits, under section 5301 of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act
of 1988, as a sanction. This sanction can be imposed in combination with
other sanctions, and courts have the option of denying all or some of the
specified federal benefits and determining the length of the denial period
within certain statutorily set ranges. When denial of benefits under section
5301 of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 is part of a sentence, the
sentencing court is to notify the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which
maintains a database (the Denial of Federal Benefits Program
Clearinghouse) of the names of persons who have been convicted and the
benefits that they have been denied. BJA passes this information on to the
U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which maintains the
debarment list for all agencies. GSA publishes the names of individuals
who are denied benefits in the Lists of Parties Excluded from Federal
Procurement or Nonprocurement Programs, commonly known as the
Debarment List. The Debarment List contains special codes that indicate
whether all or selected benefits have been denied for an individual and the
expiration date for the period of denial. Before making an award or
conferring a pertinent federal benefit, federal agencies are required to
consult the Debarment List to determine if the individual is eligible for
benefits.
The Department of Justice also has data-sharing agreements with the
Department of Education and the Federal Communications Commission.
The purpose of these agreements is to provide these agencies with access
to information about persons currently denied the federal benefits
administered by them. For example, as described in this report, students
who are convicted of offenses involving the sale or possession of a
controlled substance are ineligible to receive certain federal
postsecondary education benefits. In order to ensure that student financial
assistance is not awarded to individuals subject to denial of benefits under
court orders issued pursuant to section 5301, DOJ and the Department of
Education implemented a computer matching program. The Department
of Education attempts to identify persons who have applied for federal
higher education assistance by matching records from applicants against

6

21 U.S.C. § 862(c ).

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix V: Legal and Administrative
Framework for the Denial of Federal Benefits
Program

the BJA database list of persons who have been denied benefits. Officials
at the Department of Education report that the department has matched
only a few records of applicants for federal higher education assistance to
the DOJ list of persons denied federal benefits. The individuals whose
names appear on the DOJ list may differ from those individuals who selfcertify to a drug offense conviction on their applications for federal
postsecondary education assistance. (See app. III for more information on
this.)
The Administrative Office of United States Courts is responsible for
administrative matters for the federal courts. Shortly after the passage of
the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, AOUSC added the Denial of Federal
Benefits sentence enhancement to the Pre-Sentence Report Monograph,
which provided information to probation officers about the availability of
the DFB as sanction along with its requirements. AOUSC also developed a
standard form for federal judges to use in reporting the imposition of the
Denial of Federal Benefits sanctions; the form is part of the Judgment and
Commitment Order that is completed by the court upon sentencing.
The United States Sentencing Commission promulgates federal sentencing
guidelines and collects data on all persons sentenced pursuant to the
federal sentencing guidelines. After the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse
Act of 1988, the USSC prepared a guideline for this sanction and included
it in the Sentencing Guidelines Manual. Annually, USSC distributes the
Sentencing Guidelines Manual to federal court officials.

Use of the Denial of
Federal Benefits
Program Provisions

Bureau of Justice Assistance data show that between 1990 and the second
quarter of 2004, 8,298 offenders were reported as having been denied
federal benefits by judges who imposed sanctions under the Denial of
Federal Benefits Program. About 38 percent (or 3,128) of these offenders
were denied benefits in state courts, and about 62 percent (or 5,170) were
denied benefits in federal courts. About an average 635 persons per year
were denied benefits under the program over the 1992 through 2003
period, and the number denied in any given year ranged from about 428 to
833. The number denied a benefit under the program decreased to 428 in
2002 and increased to 595 in 2003.7

7

The second quarter of 2004 was the most recent BJA data on the number of offenders
denied benefits under the DFB.

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix V: Legal and Administrative
Framework for the Denial of Federal Benefits
Program

According to BJA data, judges in comparatively few courts used the denial
of federal benefits provisions. State court judges in 7 states and federal
judges in judicial districts in 26 states were reported to have imposed the
sanction. Among state courts, judges in Texas accounted for 39 percent of
the state court totals, while judges in Oregon and Rhode Island accounted
for 30 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Among the federal courts,
judges in judicial districts in Texas accounted for 21 percent of the federal
totals, while judges in North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida,
Nevada, and Kansas accounted for between 8 percent and 15 percent of
the totals. Federal judges in each of the remaining 19 states accounted for
less than 3 percent of the federal totals.
Not all of the 8,298 offenders recorded as having been denied federal
benefits between 1990 and 2004 under the program are currently denied
benefits. For about 75 percent of these offenders, the period of denial has
expired. Officials at BJA report that as of April 2004, they maintained
about 2,000 active records of persons currently under a period of denial.
Relative to the total number of felony drug convictions, the provisions of
the Denial of Federal Benefits (DFB) Program are reportedly used in a
relatively small percentage of drug cases. For example, biannually
between 1992 and 2000, there were a minimum of 274,000 and a maximum
of 348,000 convictions for drug offenses in state courts, or about 307,000
per year. In federal courts over this same period, there were between
15,000 and 24,000 drug offenders convicted, or about 19,000 per year. As
the average annual number of drug defendants in state courts denied
benefits under the DFB was 223, the rate of use of the DFB in state courts
averaged about 0.07 percent. Among federal drug defendants, the annual
average number reported as having received a sanction under the program
was about 369, while the average annual number of drug defendants
sentenced federally was about 19,000; hence, the percentage of all federal
drug defendants receiving a sanction under the program was about 2
percent.

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix V: Legal and Administrative
Framework for the Denial of Federal Benefits
Program

Assessing the Impacts
of the Denial of
Federal Benefits
Program

Throughout the history of the program, questions have been raised about
its apparently limited impacts. In 1992, we reported on the difficulties in
denying federal benefits to convicted drug offenders8 and suggested that
there would not be widespread withholding of federal benefits from drug
offenders.9 Officials at BJA also reported that the sanction has not been
widely used by judges. In 2001, BJA program managers met with some U.S.
attorneys in an attempt to provide them with information about the
potential benefits of the program. According to BJA officials, the U.S.
attorneys responded that they typically used other statutes for sanctioning
and sentencing drug offenders, rather than the sanctions under the Denial
of Federal Benefits Program.
The benefits that can be denied under the program—federal contracts,
grants, loans, and professional or commercial licenses—suggest some
reasons as to its relatively infrequent use. Persons engaged in federal
contracting, for example, are generally engaged in business activities, and
such persons compose small percentages of federal defendants sentenced
for drug offenses. Hence, relatively few defendants may qualify to use
these federal benefits, and therefore relatively few may be denied the
benefits.

8

GAO, Drug Control: Denying Federal Benefits to Convicted Drug Offenders,
GAO/GGD-92-56 (Washington, D.C.: April 21, 1992).
9

GAO’s opinion was based on the following factors: (1) the views held by those who may
affect the imposition of the sentence—judges and other criminal justice officials—that the
sentence would not have much impact on many of the offenders convicted in federal and
state courts; (2) accepted court sentencing practices such as excluding many first-time
drug offenders—such as those charged with drug possession—from receiving such a
sentence, and (3) federal benefit administration policies and practices such as those that
preclude the interruption or termination of ongoing benefits.

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix V: Legal and Administrative
Framework for the Denial of Federal Benefits
Program

Reliable Data by Race
of Persons Receiving
the DFB Are Not
Available

None of the data sources that we reviewed provided reliable data on the
race and ethnicity of persons denied federal benefits under the Denial of
Federal Benefits Program.

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

Appendix VI: GAO Contact and Staff
Acknowledgments

Appendix VI: GAO Contact and Staff
Acknowledgments
GAO Contact

Laurie E. Ekstrand, (202) 512-8777

Acknowledgments

In addition to the contact named above, William J. Sabol, Clarence Tull,
Brian Sklar, DuEwa Kamara, Geoffrey Hamilton, David Makoto Hudson,
Michele Fejfar, David Alexander, Amy Bernstein, Anne Laffoon, Julian
King and Andrea P. Smith made key contributions to this report.

(440270)

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GAO-05-238 Denial of Federal Benefits

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