Federal Judges Block Key Components of Biden's Student Debt Relief Plan; Borrowers May Not Get Debt Cancellation or Lower Payments


The Biden administration faced significant hurdles this week in its efforts to ease student loan debt, as two federal judges issued rulings blocking crucial elements of the President's relief initiatives.

The legal challenges brought a temporary halt to provisions of the Saving on a Valuable Education Plan (SAVE Plan), thereby affecting millions of American borrowers and putting a huge question mark over student debt relief in the United States.

Federal Judges Block Key Components of Biden's Student Debt Relief Plan; Borrowers May Not Get Debt Cancellation or Lower Payments

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Kuhlmann/ MSC)

Legal Challenges and Court Rulings

The SAVE Plan, revised by the Biden Administration in response to the Supreme Court's invalidation of a previous loan forgiveness initiative, tries to correlate monthly payments to the income and size of the borrower's family. It has already saved millions of Americans from paralyzing debt by trimming and sometimes even reducing the payments of borrowers down to zero. Yesterday, however, U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree in Wichita, Kansas, joined by US District Judge in St. Louis, Missouri, District Judge John Ross, issued rulings significantly affecting how the plan will be implemented.

Judge Crabtree has blocked a U.S. Department of Education plan from moving forward, with parts of it set to begin July 1, that aims to slash monthly payments and expedite loan forgiveness for millions of Americans. Crabtree was swayed by arguments of several Republican-led states saying the plan exceeded authority provided by Congress and financially harmed their interests, particularly for the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority.

However, Judge Ross issued a preliminary injunction against further loan forgiveness under the SAVE Plan, ruling that the provision to cancel debt for borrowers with original balances of $12,000 or less and minimal qualifying payments exceeded the administration's authority. This ruling brought to the fore some legal and procedural predicaments for this provision in Biden's administration on debt relief.

READ MORE: Biden Administration Halted Student Loan Forgiveness Plan As Courts Issue Injunctions, Leaving Millions In Limbo 

Effect on Borrowers and Political Consequences

Looking first at these rulings, what is realized is a huge impact, where close to 4.6 million borrowers already have availed themselves under the SAVE Plan and $160 billion in relief has already been approved. These court decisions place uncertainty and potential financial strain on those expecting either further debt cancellation or reduced monthly payments.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona criticized the rulings, stating that the Department of Justice would "vigorously defend" the SAVE Plan. He maintained that the SAVE plan represents a continued source of millions of borrowers who can lower their monthly payments and be saved from regular interest-on-interest if they are regular payers. Despite these present legal setbacks in student debt relief, the administration won't back down from the fight.

These rulings also have far broader political ramifications. Republican officials and allies of the court decisions are billing that as a win for the rule of law and fiscal responsibility-arguing that the president doesn't have the unilateral authority to cancel student loans without congressional approval. Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, one of the lawsuit's filers, hailed the ruling as a victory for constitutional principles and American taxpayers.

The Future of Student Debt Relief

The legal battles the administration is waging highlight one reality. Should a mass student debt relief program be enacted, it would undoubtedly be fraught with complications and obstacles. The Biden administration has advanced dramatically in terms of debt relief, having forgiven hundreds of millions of dollars of debt under various programs, including the SAVE Plan. Last month, officials announced $613 million in debt cancellation for more than 54,000 borrowers as part of larger efforts that so far have wiped out $167 billion in loans for 4.75 million people through administrative actions.

Governance officials believe in the administration despite the legal blows that student debt relief is taking at the moment. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in an emailed statement that the Department of Education would keep enrolling more Americans into SAVE, helping borrowers unlock available benefits, including $0 payments for people earning $16 an hour or less and protections from accumulating interest.

The fate of student debt relief in the US now rests in the hands of the courts as legal battles ensue. The staunch will of the Biden administration to do the same for millions of borrowers will receive aggressive opposition from lawyer Republicans and the legal opposition. Conversely, the administration's perseverance in securing relief through every avenue available indicates that student debt is an important issue for many Americans struggling to pay off their educational loans.

RELATED ARTICLE: Biden Administration Propels Student Loan Forgiveness Efforts Amid Legal Challenges; Understanding Options: Federal Vs. Private Loans 

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