Federal Judge Blocks Applications for Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Program

Two federal courts struck down the Biden administration’s federal student loan forgiveness program, halting any new applications from being submitted.

Applicants are currently met with the following message on StudentAid.gov: “Courts have issued orders blocking our student debt relief program. As a result, at this time, we are not accepting applications. We are seeking to overturn those orders. If you’ve already applied, we’ll hold your applications.”

For many students at UC San Diego, this decision could make it much harder for them to pay off their student loans. As of 2022, almost 43 million borrowers have federal student loan debt, and the average debt is $37,787. Each year, almost 40% of all undergraduate students take out student loans; 70% of students have accumulated student debt by the time they graduate. 

The program was halted soon after Judge Mark Pittman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas rejected President Joseph Biden’s executive action in August to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of Americans. Pittman was appointed in 2019 by former President Donald Trump. 

Pittman is not the only conservative to knock down Biden’s plan. The Job Creators Network Foundation, a conservative advocacy group, called the plan “irrational, arbitrary, and unfair.” Moreover, they accused the president of overreaching his authority and argued that the White House overlooked federal procedures by not getting public input on the program. 

The Biden Administration said that the Justice Department has already appealed the federal court’s decision. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said that “we believe strongly that the Biden-Harris Student Debt Relief Plan is lawful and necessary to give borrowers and working families breathing room as they recover from the pandemic and to ensure they succeed when repayment restarts.”

The Education Department claimed that borrowers would receive forgiveness of their loan within six weeks after they applied. The application launched on Oct. 17 and more than 26 million people applied within three weeks. Currently, 16 million of those requests have been approved. The department said it will hold the applications of borrowers who have already applied. 

Finding a plaintiff who can prove they have been harmed by the policy is the main obstacle for those who oppose Biden’s plan. Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor, said he was shocked by the Texas judge’s ruling. 

On Aug. 24, President Biden announced that tens of millions of Americans would be eligible for student loan forgiveness — up to $20,000 if they received a Pell Grant and up to $10,000 if they didn’t. 

The student loan forgiveness plan was already on hold from a challenge brought up by six Republican-led states that also accused the president of overstepping his authority. However, a federal judge rejected the states’ lawsuits, claiming that they lacked legal standing. The states didn’t give up the lawsuit and instead, filed an appeal and asked the court to stay with the president’s plan. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the states’ emergency petition, which stopped the Biden administration from being able to forgive any student debt. Still, the Department of Education encouraged borrowers to continue applying since the plan had not been struck down yet. 

Republicans had criticized student loan forgiveness as a handout to well-off college graduates long before Biden introduced his plan. They also stated that the president didn’t have the power to forgive consumer debt without Congress. So far, at least 6 lawsuits have been brought against the president’s plan. 

Image by Clarence Ip for the UCSD Guardian.

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