A key phase in Biden's new student-loan forgiveness plan has wrapped up, bringing borrowers one step closer to relief. But pushback is brewing. (2024)

Rachel, a Pennsylvania student-loan borrower, wants President Joe Biden's new debt cancellation plan to be implemented — and she wants the relief to be as broad as possible.

In a comment to the administration publicly available on the Federal Register, Rachel wrote that "the more student loan debt that can be forgiven the better."

She said her mom's student loans were forgiven last month, and during the over three-year student-loan payment pause, she was able to buy a home because she didn't have to pay her monthly student-loan bills.

"My loans are currently in repayment, and if that burden could be lifted it would be life-changing for me," she wrote.

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Rachel is among the millions of federal student-loan borrowers contending with monthly bills again amid an uncertain time for relief. Biden's Education Department is working to implement a new debt relief plan after the Supreme Court struck down its first plan last summer.

The new plan — expected to benefit over 30 million borrowers — is focused on distinct categories for relief, including:

  • cancellation of unpaid interest of up to $20,000;
  • debt cancellation for borrowers who are eligible for — but have not yet enrolled in — relief under plans like Public Service Loan Forgiveness and income-driven repayment;
  • relief for borrowers who entered repayment at least 20 years ago;
  • and relief for borrowers who attended programs that left them with too much debt compared to post-grad earnings.

While a separate proposal for relief for borrowers experiencing financial hardship is expected to be unveiled in the coming months, the Education Department just concluded the public comment period for the other categories — meaning it is now one step closer to implementing the relief this fall.

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But the road ahead isn't smooth. The department's proposal received a flood of negative comments, including a letter from 20 Republican state attorneys general who claimed the relief is unconstitutional.

"The least the American people should be able to expect is that people receiving debt cancelation actually apply for it and that the Department makes a determination on an individual basis," they wrote. "Instead, the Department is twisting the law to forgive as many loans as possible. This is wrong."

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Some of those attorneys general have already filed lawsuits to block some of Biden's more targeted relief efforts, like relief through the new SAVE income-driven repayment plan, and it's highly likely lawsuits will arise once the administration gets closer to finalizing this new rule.

The administration has maintained confidence in the legality of its relief, vowing to move as quickly as possible so borrowers can start reaping the benefits this year.

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"From day one of my Administration, I promised to fight to ensure higher education is a ticket to the middle class, not a barrier to opportunity," Biden said in a recent statement. "I will never stop working to cancel student debt — no matter how many times Republican elected officials try to stop us."

Where the challenges stand

The administration is required to adhere to the negotiated rulemaking process to implement this new student-loan forgiveness plan. That means it will now take into account all the comments it received on the plan, and it will decide whether to adjust its proposal or move toward implementation.

For now, the administration plans to begin implementing the relief this fall, coinciding with the presidential election. Should Biden win, relief efforts would continue, but former President Donald Trump would likely cease those efforts if he wins another term.

A host of Republican lawmakers have also called on the administration to rescind its proposed rule. Before the public comment period concluded, 130 of them signed onto a letter saying that "the Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that there is zero authority to write-off federal student loans en masse last June when the Department's 'Plan A' was ruled unconstitutional."

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In addition, experts previously told Business Insider that Biden is likely to face similar legal challenges to the ones he did the first time around when he attempted to cancel student debt using the HEROES Act of 2003. The HEROES Act allowed the education secretary to cancel student debt in connection to a national emergency, like the pandemic, which the Supreme Court ultimately ruled was unconstitutional.

Biden's administration is using the Higher Education Act this time, which does not require a national emergency. Still, Cary Coglianese, an administrative law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, previously told BI that Biden "is certainly still facing a very skeptical Supreme Court."

"Even though it's a different statute, it's still a skeptical Supreme Court," he said. "It's still a pretty big program even though it's a smaller one."

For now, all borrowers can do is continue to make their payments as they wait for debt relief — either through one of the administration's targeted efforts or the broader version set for the fall.

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Have you gotten student-debt relief? Do you have loans and don't believe they should be forgiven? Reach out to this reporter at asheffey@businessinsider.com.

A key phase in Biden's new student-loan forgiveness plan has wrapped up, bringing borrowers one step closer to relief. But pushback is brewing. (2024)

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