MADISON, Wis. -- Across the country, 43 million Americans, including students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, are waiting to see if some or all of their student loans could be forgiven as the U.S. Supreme Court started hearing arguments about President Joe Biden’s program’s legality.
“It's worrying that it might not come through,” Tommy Molina said. He applied for “$20,000, so the maximum amount.”
The second-year law school student isn’t the only one feeling this way after applying for the pandemic-era plan.
“We need it, school's expensive,” said Sherry Wong.
“I was real excited when it came out and [I've] just been kind of waiting after we heard that it's on pause,” Molina said.
It's on pause and in danger of being axed by mostly conservative judges in America's highest court, who argue the Biden administration overstepped its authority.
“The flipside to, ‘Oh it should've gone through Congress’ is that it actually did go through Congress,” law school Professor Steph Tai, who uses they/them pronouns, said. “The agency was working under the HEROS Act.”
According to the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROS) Act of 2003, the Secretary of Education has the power to "waive or modify" a federal student loan program “in a war or other military operation or national emergency."
The Biden administration says the economic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic qualified as such.
The program planned to erase $10,000 in federal student loan debt for those with incomes below $125,000 a year, or households that earn less than $250,000. An additional $10,000 would be available for those who received federal Pell Grants to attend college.
“One of the things that [challengers] raised was: ‘Look, there’s debt relief everywhere and you didn’t address this before, isn’t this really a sham way to give debt relief? And you waited so long into the pandemic to do so, are you really treating this as a national emergency or just a road around notice and comment rule-making?’” Tai said.
According to Molina, “unfortunately I think a lot of things have gone political.” But Tai believes it’s not as cut and dry.
“I'm less certain that it's going to become, you know, Democrat versus Republican,” they said. “If they wanted to act in a political ends-oriented manner, they'd have to jettison some of the cases that they rely upon pretty heavily.”
The court won't make a final decision for months, most likely in the summer -- leaving students like Wong's boyfriend in New York, in flux.
“They're doing part-time classes right now and also working 30-40 hours a week at a supermarket just to pay it off,” Wong said. “And so, like if that kind of flexibility wasn’t there it's kind of like game over -- it just becomes much harder to get a degree and they might just stop entirely.”
According to the Department of Education, in Wisconsin 465,400 people applied for student loan debt forgiveness, and 302,400 were fully approved.
In the 2nd Congressional District, 60,600 filled out applications, of which 39,000 were approved.
“There is I think a misperception that it's only hitting the elite college students; it's actually hitting trade schools just as much,” Tai said.
They said anyone who wants to see this changed needs to vote.
“If you want a jurisprudence that allows for these sorts of things, you have to pay attention to elections even if it’s not particularly sexy.”
“This is why elections matter,” Tai said.
But for now, students like Molina are stuck playing the waiting game: “It’s going to be hard.”
“When it was announced, I didn't think that something like this would happen anyways so I've been planning in case that happens. But it will definitely be a big letdown,” Molina said.
COPYRIGHT 2023 BY CHANNEL 3000. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED.