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Friday, February 3, 2023

Meet Republican Who’s Not Surprised His Student-Loan Relief Was Paused

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  • Millions of borrowers are waiting to see whether their student-loan relief will go through.
  • Matthew, a 28-year-old Republican, would see his loans relieved but doesn’t expect it to happen.
  • He told Insider he wasn’t surprised to see court challenges and worried for people who got refunds.

Matthew isn’t surprised his student-loan relief is stalled.

The 28-year-old Republican is set to get all of the loans for his master’s degree canceled — if President Joe Biden’s relief program is allowed to go through.

Matthew, who lives in Salt Lake City and whose last name is known to Insider, was always skeptical about whether the program would go through. Since Biden announced his plan at the end of August to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers, the plan has been fraught with legal challenges. Over the past two weeks, two federal courts have blocked the implementation of the loan forgiveness.

“I foresaw that happening, but I think unfortunately a lot of people didn’t foresee that happening and moved on with their life with the assurance that what was announced is exactly what they were going to get,” said Matthew, who owes $10,000 in student debt.

The first significant legal setback to the debt relief was on November 10, when a federal judge in Texas ruled Biden’s student-loan forgiveness illegal. The decision was in response to a lawsuit filed by two student-loan borrowers who did not qualify for the full $20,000 in debt relief and argued the relief should be blocked as a result. 

Biden’s administration quickly filed an appeal of that lawsuit to the 5th Circuit, but just four days later the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals dealt the debt relief another blow when it ruled the temporary pause it placed on the plan in October would remain in place indefinitely. That was in response to the six Republican-led states that filed the lawsuit arguing that the relief would hurt their states’ tax revenue, and Biden’s Justice Department took that case to the Supreme Court on November 18, asking it to overrule the 8th Circuit and allow the relief to resume.

“I do still believe that the overall policy is an unfair policy. I think many of the court challenges have tried to shine light on that,” Matthew said. He previously told Insider he felt that the relief was unfair to high earners, people who went into the trades, or those who “did their homework on what types of majors they go into, what type of jobs would be available, and how long that would take them to pay back their debt.”

“My generation, the millennial, Gen Z generation, are facing a significant problem with student-loan debt,” he said. “I feel as though that the administration, through their strongest intent and their sincerest desires, were trying to help that generation with this policy. However, I personally believe it’s the wrong policy and was, quite frankly, an illegal policy.”

Borrowers might have preemptively ‘dug themselves into a hole’

One aspect of student-loan forgiveness kicked in right away: Borrowers could get refunds on payments they made during the coronavirus pandemic, and then future relief would be applied toward balances.

Some have already received thousands of dollars back on payments they made during the pause. Matthew, though, said he was careful not to change anything after relief was announced, anticipating a court challenge.

“I think a lot of people spent that money with the idea that that was forgiven already,” he said. He’s fearful for the people who got their money back and spent it or were already banking on forgiveness.

Stuart, another student-loan borrower who requested his last name be withheld for privacy, told Insider that while he raced to apply for $10,000 in loan forgiveness with his wife when the online application became available last month, he wasn’t too surprised when the relief ran into legal hurdles.

“We would be in a much better spot just knowing that $10,000 has been lifted, but we never banked on it,” Stuart said. “I didn’t know if this was going to actually happen. So like, let’s just not change anything with our finances — we can dream about it, but I won’t believe it until it’s actually in my student-loan balance.”

He said that while he was “optimistic” from the start, “once it went to appeals I accepted that this is doomed.”

Matthew was of the same mind. “A lot of people with this understanding that it was pretty much solidified at this point — without thinking of potential court challenges in the future — may have dug themselves into a hole that’s going to be a little bit harder for them to get out of moving forward,” he said.

The fate of relief is still with the courts

Amid these legal challenges, the Biden administration has continued to express confidence it will ultimately succeed in court. Before the Education Department stopped accepting new applications from borrowers in response to the ruling from the 8th Circuit, 16 million borrowers had already been approved for relief.

On November 19, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona began notifying those borrowers of their approval status and said “we will discharge your approved debt if and when we prevail in court.”

Republican lawmakers might try to push forward legislation to block current or future relief using their slim House majority in the next Congress.

“This administration continues to operate as if its own self-appointed authority in transferring billions of dollars in student loans is legitimate, but the rule of law says otherwise,” said the House education committee’s ranking member, Rep. Virginia Foxx. “This radical scheme must be eviscerated entirely, and Republicans will continue to support legal challenges to achieve that end.”

But they will not have sufficient votes in Congress to override Biden’s veto, giving federal courts the final say.

Some Democratic lawmakers have also pushed back on the lawsuits. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, for instance, recently said the Texas judge who blocked the relief was playing “politics instead of actually following the law.” The AFL-CIO, the largest labor federation in the country, said it was “extremely disappointed” in what it called “the partisan legal effort to shut down the Biden administration’s life-changing student-loan relief” and would continue to advocate the plan to move forward.

Matthew, however, isn’t optimistic that relief will prevail. He predicts that the Supreme Court will overturn it.

“A lot of people are going to be very disappointed, very angry, and in a worse financial position than they were before this announcement took place,” he said.

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