In latest challenge to student loan forgiveness program, a Texas judge blocks Biden’s policy

A federal judge in North Texas has struck down the loan forgiveness program President Joe Biden unveiled in August, citing a failure to provide borrowers with an opportunity for public comment.

Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
The Old Main building behind the Burleson Quadrangle at Baylor University in Waco. U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman on Thursday struck down President Joe Biden's student loan forgiveness program, which is estimated to provide debt relief for 3.3 million Texans.

A federal judge in North Texas ruled on Thursday that President Joe Biden's student loan forgiveness program is "unlawful," the latest challenge to the policy that has seen several attacks from conservative groups.

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman said in court files that he declared the loan forgiveness plan unlawful because Biden did not follow federal procedures to allow for public comment prior to the policy's announcement.

In October, the Job Creators Network Foundation filed the lawsuit in the North Texas court on behalf of two borrowers who don't qualify for all of the program's benefits. Those borrowers disagreed with the program's eligibility criteria and the lawsuit alleged that they could not voice their disagreement.

The latest attack on Biden's loan forgiveness programs comes after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit temporarily halted the program last month in response to a lawsuit from six GOP-led states. The Texas lawsuit joins a growing number of legal challenges to the loan forgiveness plan that Biden announced in August. Borrowers started applying for the program in October.

Since then, Republicans and other advocacy groups have attacked the program as a handout to high-salaried professionals. Gov. Greg Abbott signed a letter in September that said student loan forgiveness would harm the working class.

But people who earn over $125,000 are not eligible for the loan relief program. Eligible applicants are limited to $10,000 in relief, unless they are recipients of Pell Grants, intended for low-income students, in which case they can get up to $20,000 in relief.

In 2021, 56% of students who graduated from four-year public universities had approximately $25,000 in student debt, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Biden's decision to forgive more money for low-income students who qualified for federal Pell Grants will especially impact low-income borrowers and people of color, who are more likely to qualify for federal financial aid and carry higher amounts of student loan debt.

The Texas lawsuit alleges that Biden's program violated the Administrative Procedure Act by not providing a public comment period. The lawsuit also argues the Secretary of Education does not have the authority to implement the program.

Alexander Taylor, one of the plaintiffs, is not eligible for $20,000 in forgiveness because he did not receive a Pell Grant, which is only available to low-income students, and therefore will only be entitled to $10,000 off his student loans.

The other plaintiff, Myra Brown, has privately held loans that are no longer covered by Biden's plan. Earlier in the program's existence, commercially held loans like Brown's could be consolidated into Direct Loans, which meet the eligibility requirements of Biden's program, but the Education Department changed this policy after fielding multiple lawsuits from conservative states.

In response to the lawsuit, the Justice Department argued last month that Biden's plan doesn't require notice and comment.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit statewide news organization dedicated to keeping Texans informed on politics and policy issues that impact their communities. This election season, Texans around the state will turn to The Texas Tribune for the information they need on voting, election results, analysis of key races and more. Get the latest.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/11/10/texas-judge-biden-student-loan-forgiveness/. The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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