© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: US President Joe Biden delivers remarks about the Student Loan Forgiveness Program from an auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, US, October 17, 2022. REUTERS/Leah Mellis/File Photo
By Andrew Chung
(Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday asked the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court order blocking his plan to cancel billions of dollars in student debt, in a challenge brought by six Republican-led states.
In a policy benefiting millions of Americans, Biden announced in August that the US government would forgive up to $10,000 in student loan debt for borrowers earning less than $125,000 a year, or $250,000 for married couples.
Biden’s plan has been opposed by six states that have argued it avoids congressional authority and threatens future state revenues. A federal judge dismissed their case for lacking legal standing, though a November 14 ruling by the St. Louis, Missouri-based 8th Circuit blocked the program while states appeal the judge’s decision.
The Justice Department has now asked in a filing with the Supreme Court to overturn that decision, saying it leaves millions of economically vulnerable borrowers in limbo.
The ministry also suggested that the Supreme Court could bypass the appeals court and consider the dispute itself expeditiously, with a decision by the end of June.
The government is also challenging a separate ruling by a federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas, that also threatens the debt relief program. U.S. Judge Mark Pittman on November 10 found the program illegal because it sided with two borrowers who sued because they did not qualify for the program and believed their debts “should also be forgiven.”
The administration stopped accepting student debt forgiveness applications after Pittman’s decision.
The Congressional Budget Office calculated in September that debt relief would cost the government about $400 billion. The program also said students who received Pell grants for low-income college students would have up to $20,000 in debt written off.
Several legal challenges have been brought to contest Biden’s power to cancel debts under a 2003 law called the Student Higher Education Relief Opportunities Act, which allows the government to modify or waive federal student loans during a war or national emergency. The Biden administration maintains that the COVID-19 pandemic is such an emergency.
The policy, which has met with opposition from Republicans, delivered on a promise the Democratic president made during the 2020 presidential campaign to help heavily indebted former college students.