courtesy Biden's program for student debt relief has been widely criticized.

Biden’s student debt forgiveness program is legal, but might not last

Lawsuits against The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program beg the question: can it endure the courts?

In a time where student debt in the US has reached more than $1.6 trillion, it is no wonder that people all over the nation are watching Biden’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program very closely. Rising college costs and decreasing returns on that investment have classified the student debt rate as a crisis by many.

Despite this, states have begun levying lawsuits against the program. And while many of them have been rejected, the increasing number is becoming hard to ignore.

So, is this program legal? First, let’s look at the claims against it. The main claim is that Biden has no authority to roll out such a large amount of loan forgiveness. The six conservative states where most of these lawsuits are coming from – Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina – also claim they would be significantly harmed financially following the billions in loan debt forgiven.

Biden did not implement this program without evaluating his legal legitimacy of doing so. There is an institutional basis for helping students and graduates with their debt. The Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act of 2003 created the ability for the national government to reduce hardships that federal student loans placed upon persons during national emergencies. In 2020, Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency. He therefore gave Biden the ability to reinstate this act. Those in opposition to this program criticize that the extent of forgiveness Biden is calling for is too much of a stretch. This implies that the HEROES act has limitations, but nowhere in the act does it specify how much hardship reduction is allowed or how much can be allocated to loan forgiveness.

The most legally ambiguous part of this legislation is the extent of national power expansion it implies. It would be austencible giving the national government the power to largely change the allocation of debt in the country. This would not be the first time we saw a president respond to a crisis with an executive order though, or the first time they expanded national jurisdiction.

Laws are, of course, important in deciding if something is legal, but so are legal precedents. Legal precedence is always changing, and Biden has every right and ability to influence it. Even if you do not like this program, you cannot deny that Biden would not be doing anything out of the norm by expanding national legal power. Franklin D. Roosevelt, George W. Bush and Abraham Lincoln prove in and of themselves that where there are not explicit national restrictions, presidents have the right to make interpretations and reforms through executive orders.

This program does, however, put the Biden administration at risk of being sued by student loan servicers. These servicers collect student loan payments on the government’s behalf and would lose significant income from the reduced amount of fees collected. If one of these private banks goes to the Federal District Courts and has a favorable judge, it could result in a nationwide injunction that would stop the entire program from going into effect.

There is also the issue of if any of the court cases levied against the program go to the Supreme Court. As the court has not exactly aligned themselves with the Biden administration, likelihood is that they would quickly shut it down.

Essentially, there is no way to know right now if the courts will support the legality of the PSLF program. If you are one of the millions who have student debt, absolutely apply to Biden’s program, but do not bet on it.

Post Author: Aurora Stewart