WASHINGTON – The White House is extending the pause on student loan payments until as late as June 30, 2023, President Joe Biden said Tuesday, as his plan for wider student loan debt forgiveness remains tied up in the courts.
The pause had been scheduled to end on Dec. 31, but that date was coupled with plans for mass debt relief.
In a video message posted on Twitter, Biden defended his plan for far-reaching student debt forgiveness and said the extension of the moratorium was a way to address the ongoing legal challenges. "I'm confident that our student debt relief plan is legal. But it’s on hold because Republican officials want to block it," he said.
The exact end of the pause is uncertain. The Education Department said payments would start two months after litigation concludes or the mass debt relief program has been implemented. It could last until June 30, but borrowers won't be required to make payments for an additional two months. The extension coincides with the end of the Supreme Court's current session.
In the video message, Biden slammed “Republican special interests” that have successfully sued to halt his administration’s student debt cancellation program. The administration appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s injunction that ruled the debt forgiveness plan can not go forward.
“It isn't fair to ask tens of millions of borrowers eligible for relief to resume their student debt payments while the court considers a lawsuit,” Biden said. “I'm never going to apologize for helping working-class and middle-class families recover from the economic crisis created by the pandemic.”
Roughly 26 million people have applied for student loan debt relief, and borrowers over the weekend received notices from the Education Department telling them their loans would be canceled if and when the litigation was resolved.
"I want borrowers to know that the Biden-Harris Administration has their backs and we’re as committed as ever to fighting to deliver essential student debt relief to tens of millions of Americans," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said.
The Education Department had warned in the days prior that restarting payments without mass relief could result in a "historically large increase in the amount of federal student loan delinquency and defaults as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic."
Virginia Foxx, the ranking member on the House's education committee, criticized the extension, saying it would have "real, harmful repercussions for Americans."
"This is not the kind of policy taxpayers ordered, but it’s all that’s on the menu for the Biden administration," Foxx said. "We need sane, fiscally responsible policies–not the haphazard decisions being served up by this White House."
The moratorium was first enacted under former President Donald Trump in March 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to waived payments, interest rates for federal student loans have been set at 0% and loan servicers have stopped attempting to collect overdue debts.
When Biden in August extended the moratorium to the end of the year, he said it would be the last time the freeze was pushed back. But that was before a pair of setbacks in federal court for Biden’s student loan debt cancellation, which was designed to grant up to $20,000 in relief to borrowers.
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Borrowers making less than $125,000 a year – or $250,000 for married couples – qualify for the president's mass debt forgiveness plan. The payment pause, however, affects borrowers with federal loans regardless of their income.
The NAACP and other advocates of student debt relief had pushed for the White House to extend the moratorium while the Supreme Court decides whether to take up the administration’s appeal.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan group that advocates on fiscal issues, estimated that if Biden's newest extension of the pause lasted two months beyond June 30, 2023, it would cost an additional $40 billion, for a total cost of $195 billion over the life of the freeze on payments.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Student loan freeze extension: Biden approves another payment pause