Federal judges halt portion of President Biden’s student loan repayment program

Two federal judges in Kansas and Missouri on Monday, at the request of multiple Republican-led states, prohibited the Biden administration from further implementing a new student debt relief plan aimed at reducing payments.

District Judge Daniel Crabtree in Wichita, Kansas, barred the U.S. Department of Education from enacting components of a student loan repayment scheme not yet in force, which would lower borrowers’ monthly payments and expedite debt forgiveness. This came shortly before District Judge John Ross in St. Louis, Missouri, issued a preliminary orderprohibiting the department from providing additional loan forgiveness under the Biden administration’s Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan.

The SAVE Plan offers more favorable terms than previous income-based repayment schemes, reducing monthly payments for eligible borrowers and enabling those with original principal balances below $12,000 to have their debts forgiven after a decade.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, a Republican who was instrumental in the legal action, praised Ross’ ruling. “Congress never authorized Biden to burden working Americans with half-a-trillion dollars of others’ debt,” he stated on the social media platform X.

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The White House expressed strong disagreement with the judgments and criticized Republican politicians who opposed student debt relief.

“Today’s decisions will not prevent our administration from utilizing all available means to provide students and borrowers with the necessary relief,” declared White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement.

President Joe Biden introduced the SAVE Plan in 2022, alongside a broader $430 billion initiative that would have fulfilled a campaign pledge by canceling up to $20,000 in debt for 43 million Americans. However, it was ultimately hindered by the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court in June 2023.

The SAVE Plan was scheduled to be fully operational on July 1, although portions had already been put into practice, resulting in $5.5 billion in debt relief for 414,000 borrowers by mid-May, as reported by the Education Department.

The White House indicated that over 20 million borrowers could benefit from the SAVE Plan, with 8 million already enrolled in May, including 4.6 million whose monthly payments were reduced to $0.

Eleven states contested the plan in a lawsuit filed in Kansas. While Crabtree had recently dismissed eight of the states’ assertions, South Carolina, Texas, and Alaska were permitted to move forward. Simultaneously, seven other states sued in Missouri.

Neither judge ordered the reversal of any debt relief already provided. Crabtree pointed out that the Republican-led states had delayed too long to claim they were irreparably harmed by the active components of the SAVE Plan.

However, Crabtree, appointed by former President Barack Obama, along with Ross, highlighted that the Higher Education Act of 1965 did not explicitly authorize the kind of “unprecedented and significant expansion” of income-based repayment plans envisioned.

Lawyers for the Republican-led states estimated that the SAVE Plan would incur a cost of $475 billion over a decade, a point emphasized by Ross in favoring the seven states led by Missouri by stating that the department had “exceeded its authority by introducing a loan forgiveness provision as part of the SAVE program.”

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