While the White House continues to fight a legal battle to save President Joe Biden’s federal student loan debt relief plan, payments will remain on hold, the administration announced on Tuesday.
“The extension will alleviate uncertainty for borrowers as the Biden-Harris Administration asks the Supreme Court to review the lower-court orders that are preventing the Department from providing debt relief for tens of millions of Americans,” a statement from the Education Department reads.
Last week, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to review the issue and reinstate the plan after a federal judge in Texas struck it down.
“I’m confident that our student debt relief plan is legal. But it’s on hold because Republican officials want to block it,” President Biden said in a statement.
The COVID-era payment pause, which then-President Donald Trump enacted in March 2020, was set to end on January 1, 2023. The freeze not only put payments on hold but prevented interest from accruing on federal student loans.
In Tuesday’s announcement, the Biden administration extended the payment pause until 60 days after the pending lawsuit is resolved. If the debt relief plan hasn’t been enacted, and the litigation hasn’t been resolved by June 30, 2023, payments and interest accrual will begin 60 days later on August 29, 2023.
More than 26 million people have applied for student loan forgiveness, which promises to erase $10,000 in debt for those making less than $125,000 or households making less than $250,000 or $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients meeting the same income requirements.
Roughly 16 million were approved for relief before the Education Department stopped processing applications after the federal judge’s decision to halt the program. These borrowers began receiving emails from the Education Department over the weekend, confirming they will receive debt relief “when we prevail in court.”
Without Biden’s cancellation plan, the White House has argued, the number of people falling behind on student loans could rise to historic levels. The greatest risk is for about 18 million borrowers who were told their entire loan balance would be canceled. Even if payments restart, those borrowers might think they’re in the clear and ignore the bills, the Education Department has warned.
But at the same time, the White House has warned that extending the payment pause will cost several billion dollars a month in lost revenue. The moratorium has already cost the government more than $100 billion in lost payments and interest, according to the General Accountability Office.
The Biden administration didn’t address the costs in its announcement but instead cast blame on Republicans challenging the plan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.