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Student debt relief 'moving full speed ahead' despite GOP-led lawsuits, education secretary says

A federal appeals court halted implementation of President Joe Biden's student debt relief program while it considers an appeal from officials in six GOP-led states.
President Joe Biden speaks about student debt relief alongside Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona on Oct. 17, 2022, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks about student debt relief alongside Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in Washington on Oct. 17.Alex Wong / Getty Images

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the Biden administration is "moving full speed ahead" preparing to implement its federal student debt forgiveness program, a day after a federal appeals court hit pause on the administration's efforts.

Cardona said in a video posted Saturday that the administration is “not deterred” by lawsuits that seek to block its relief program.

In an op-ed published Saturday in USA Today, Cardona said the Education Department is “moving full speed ahead with preparations for the lawful implementation” of the program.

“President Biden and this administration will never stop fighting for the millions of hardworking students and borrowers across the country — no matter how many elected officials or lawsuits try to stop us," Cardona wrote. “This program will help borrowers by providing relief following the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic."

On Friday, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted implementation of the administration’s program while it considers an appeal from officials in six GOP-led states whose lawsuit against the program was dismissed by a federal judge last week.

The ruling was issued just days after the administration began accepting applications from borrowers to cancel as much as $20,000 in federally backed loans.

Cardona also took aim at arguments by the six GOP-led states, which alleged that the administration’s program is unlawful. He said the same GOP attorneys general and officials did not oppose forgiving billions of dollars in coronavirus pandemic relief loans for their states’ business owners, nor trillions in tax cuts for the highest-earning businesses during the Trump administration.

“It’s only when relief is going to working and middle-class Americans that these elected officials have a problem,” Cardona wrote.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre emphasized that the appeals court ruling does not prevent borrowers from submitting applications for loan forgiveness.

“It is also important to note that the order does not reverse the trial court’s dismissal of the case, or suggest that the case has merit. It merely prevents debt from being discharged until the court makes a decision,” she said in a statement. “We will continue to move full speed ahead in our preparations in compliance with this order. And, the Administration will continue to fight Republican officials suing to block our efforts to provide relief to working families.”

The appeals court ruled a day after Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett rejected a separate lawsuit by a Wisconsin taxpayers group that sought to halt implementation of Biden’s plan.

Biden in August announced his program to forgive up to $10,000 for borrowers and up to $20,000 for those who received Pell Grants. Those who earn less than $125,000 a year, or $250,000 for couples who file taxes jointly, are eligible.

Biden said an “entire generation is now saddled with unsustainable debt in exchange for an attempt, at least, at a college degree," adding that the "burden is so heavy that even if you graduate, you may not have access to a middle-class life that a college degree once provided."

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the program could cost $400 billion. At the end of June, 43 million borrowers held $1.6 trillion in federal student loans, it said.