‘I want to be hopeful’: Student debt relief program suspension leaves student borrowers uncertain of their fate

Ali Juell, Senior News Reporter

Student borrowers are waiting on the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the fate of their loan balances, after multiple legal challenges left President Joe Biden’s student debt relief program indefinitely suspended.

The Supreme Court is set to decide two cases on the legality of the student debt relief program next month, with one originally filed in North Texas.  

Since the announcement of the relief program and an initially positive reaction among students, Tiffany Hughes, a higher education leadership graduate student, said she has stayed informed on the status of the plan. When loan applications opened, she applied and received an acceptance email with one caveat — her loan forgiveness will be dependent on the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I want to be hopeful,” Hughes said. “The more that (the program) gets delayed, the more that hope shrinks.”

Hughes said her plans for her career and financial future are largely impacted by her loans, and it’s difficult not knowing if a portion will be forgiven.

“I think what is the most worrisome is the unknown,” Hughes said. “Not knowing if I can plan to have my loans paid back five years earlier than my original calculations.”

Constitutional law professor Stephen Vladeck said the first step in the Supreme Court’s review process is to determine if both cases have standing. This means the plaintiffs, who are suing over their inability to participate in all or some aspects of the relief program, must prove this has caused injury to their rights and freedom. 

Vladeck said even though the cases are focused on the merit of the program, he could see the Supreme Court deciding the plaintiffs lack standing for the case to be considered further. 

“I think the federal government is going to lean very hard on the idea that these plaintiffs don’t have standing,” Vladeck said. “I could easily see five votes that would hold that neither sets of plaintiffs in these cases have standing, which would effectively allow the (debt relief) program to proceed without the Supreme Court’s blessing.”

Law student Alessandro Campagna said the COVID-19 pauses on paying back federal loans have helped him save money, especially after getting his undergraduate degree. 

Even though he’s currently able to pay off his loans in full, Campagna said the indefinite status of the relief program and future loan pauses leave him unsure of his financial plans for the future. 

“This is real money at stake for people,” Campagna said. “You don’t really know when you’re going to have to use that money to pay down loans.”

Hughes said she will continue to keep an eye on the program’s status and to hope for the best. 

“I have hopes and dreams that (student debt) will not be insurmountable for me,” Hughes said. “I’m waiting on a follow up letter to tell me whether those hopes and dreams die.”