On Friday, a federal appeals court issued a stay temporarily pausing the sweeping student debt relief plan President Joe Biden announced in August. The Eighth Circuit’s ruling comes days after applications had opened for the program, which promised to cancel up to $20,000 in debt for borrowers earning less than $125,000 a year and households with an annual income under $250,000. As many as 22 million people have already applied for the relief. The program has been halted while the appeals court weighs a legal challenge brought by six Republican-led states that seek to block its implementation.
A statement by White House Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the temporary order doesn’t prevent borrowers from applying for student debt forgiveness. “We will continue to move full speed ahead in our preparations in compliance with this order,” she said. “And, the Administration will continue to fight Republican officials suing to block our efforts to provide relief to working families.”
Biden’s student forgiveness program is facing several legal challenges. In a lawsuit filed in September, attorneys general and solicitors general representing the Republican states—Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, and South Carolina—argue the Biden administration doesn’t have authority to act without congressional authorization to implement a “Mass Debt Cancellation,” which they describe as “economically unwise and downright unfair.” On Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett dismissed a separate emergency application from Wisconsin taxpayers and business owners to block the program.
Republicans have turned the student loan relief program into a flashpoint ahead of the midterms. Celebrating the Eighth Circuit ruling, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge tweeted that “hardworking Americans who did not take on this debt should not be forced to shoulder this burden.” And on Friday, President Biden called out GOP lawmakers including Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on their “hypocritical’ outrage over the program. “Who the hell do they think they are?” he said during remarks at Delaware State. “I don’t want to hear it from MAGA Republican officials who had hundreds of thousands of dollars of debts, even millions of dollars, in pandemic relief loans forgiven, who now are attacking me for helping working- and middle-class Americans.”
The Eighth Circuit has given the government until Monday to submit a response to the filing from the states, which in turn will have a Tuesday deadline for their briefs.