November 18, 2022

Wyden, Merkley, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Fix American Opportunity Tax Credit Inequity

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today joined Senate colleagues to introduce bipartisan legislation that would address systematic injustices within the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). 

 “A fair tax code means providing Americans who have served their time a chance to pursue higher education and a promising career path,” Wyden said. “The bipartisan ED ACCESS Act of 2022 will repeal the prohibition on students with prior felony drug convictions from being eligible for the American Opportunity Tax Credit—bringing the tax credit in line with other assistance programs for higher education. This is a commonsense solution and I’m all in to get it over the finish line.”

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue a higher education, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit is an excellent channel to making that happen,” Merkley said. “Even after serving their sentences though, countless Americans face hurdle after hurdle when it comes to reentering society—including being permanently ineligible for this tax credit, severely impacting their educations and futures. The ED ACCESS Act is an important step forward in clearing this obstacle, by putting the American Opportunity Tax Credit in reach so these Americans can receive an education and put themselves on a path to a better life—benefiting them, their families, and all of our communities.”

The AOTC is the primary tax credit available to students seeking a higher education; however, students with a prior felony drug conviction are permanently ineligible from using the credit. This backwards requirement makes it more difficult to ensure successful reentry for those who have served their time by limiting their ability to advance their education and pursue a career. The Eliminating Discrimination and Creating Corridors to Expand Student Success Act (ED ACCESS Act), originally introduced in 2019, would address this inequity by repealing the lifetime ban.

 The legislation is led by U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, with Wyden and Merkley joining as co-sponsors. 

Representatives Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., and David Schweikert, R-Ariz., led the companion legislation in the House of Representatives. 

The legislation is supported by a broad and diverse group of organizations, including: Americans for Prosperity, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), College & Community Fellowship, Due Process Institute, Drug Policy Alliance, Education Trust, Health in Justice Action Lab at Northeastern University School of Law, Justice Roundtable, Legal Action Center, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Association of Social Workers, National HIRE Network, Prison Fellowship, R Street Institute, Safer Foundation, and Young Invincibles.

The text of the bill is here.

A fact sheet on the bill is here.

A web version of this release is here.