ST. LOUIS -- Attorneys for six Republican-led states are asking a federal appeals court to reconsider their effort to block the Biden administration's program to forgive hundreds of millions of dollars in student loan debt.
A notice of appeal to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was filed late Thursday, hours after U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey in St. Louis ruled that since the states of Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and South Carolina failed to establish standing, “the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear this case.”
Separately, the six states also asked the district court for an injunction prohibiting the administration from implementing the debt cancellation plan until the appeals process plays out.
President Joe Biden on Monday officially launched the application process for the debt cancellation program and announced that 8 million borrowers had already applied for loan relief during the federal government’s soft launch period last weekend. Biden was scheduled to discuss the program Friday in a speech at Delaware State University.
The plan, announced in August, would cancel $10,000 in student loan debt for those making less than $125,000 or households with less than $250,000 in income. Pell Grant recipients, who typically demonstrate more financial need, will get an additional $10,000 in debt forgiven.
The Congressional Budget Office has said the program will cost about $400 billion over the next three decades. James Campbell, an attorney for the Nebraska attorney general’s office, told Autrey at an Oct. 12 hearing that the administration is acting outside its authorities in a way that will cost states millions of dollars.
The cancellation applies to federal student loans used to attend undergraduate and graduate school, along with Parent Plus loans. Current college students qualify if their loans were disbursed before July 1. The plan makes 43 million borrowers eligible for some debt forgiveness, with 20 million who could get their debt erased entirely, according to the administration.
The announcement immediately became a major political issue ahead of the November midterm elections.
Conservative attorneys, Republican lawmakers and business-oriented groups have asserted that Biden overstepped his authority in taking such sweeping action without the assent of Congress. They called it an unfair government giveaway for relatively affluent people at the expense of taxpayers who didn’t pursue higher education.
Many Democratic lawmakers facing tough reelection contests have distanced themselves from the plan.
The six states sued in September. Lawyers for the administration countered that the Department of Education has “broad authority to manage the federal student financial aid programs.” A court filing stated that the 2003 Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act, or HEROES Act, allows the secretary of education to waive or modify terms of federal student loans in times of war or national emergency.
“COVID-19 is such an emergency,” the filing stated.
The HEROES Act was enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to help members of the military. The Justice Department says the law allows Biden to reduce or erase student loan debt during a national emergency. Republicans argue the administration is misinterpreting the law, in part because the pandemic no longer qualifies as a national emergency.
Justice Department attorney Brian Netter told Autrey at the Oct. 12 hearing that fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is still rippling. He said student loan defaults have skyrocketed over the past 2 1/2 years.
Other lawsuits also have sought to stop the program. Earlier Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett rejected an appeal from a Wisconsin taxpayers group seeking to stop the debt cancellation program.
Barrett, who oversees emergency appeals from Wisconsin and neighboring states, did not comment in turning away the appeal from the Brown County Taxpayers Association. The group wrote in its Supreme Court filing that it needed an emergency order because the administration could begin canceling outstanding student debt as soon as Sunday.