- The White House announced it’s ending the COVID-19 national emergency declaration in May.
- Biden’s student-debt relief plan uses the HEROES Act, which allows relief in connection with a national emergency.
- An administration official said the relief is still legal because the economic impacts of the pandemic will last longer than the emergency declaration.
President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel student debt relies on the existence of a national emergency, and that emergency is now set to end in May.
But the White House said the legality of the debt relief will still stand.
In response to two bills from Republican lawmakers aimed at ending the COVID-19 national emergency declaration immediately, the White House on Monday released a statement reflecting that the declaration will end on May 11. It said that this aligns with the administration’s committement to provide 60 days notice prior to the termination of the emergency declaration, and that “an abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans.”
This announcement, though, could amplify arguments from those who oppose Biden’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers. The White House is using the HEROES Act of 2003 to enact this relief, which gives the Education Secretary the ability to waive or modify student-loan balances in connection with a national emergency, like COVID-19.
Some Republican lawmakers have previously argued the president cannot continue relying on the pandemic to get this relief to millions of borrowers, but an administration official told Insider in a statement that “providing debt relief can continue after the formal end of the national emergency.”
“Our debt relief plan is needed to prevent defaults and delinquencies as student borrowers transition back to repayment after the end of the payment pause. The national emergency formally ending does not change that fact. It also does not change the legal justification for the plan,” the administration official said.
“There was a national emergency that impacted millions of student borrowers,” the official continued. “Many of those borrowers still face risk of default on their student loans due to that emergency. Congress gave the Secretary of Education the authority under the HEROES Act to take steps to prevent that harm, and he is.”
Biden’s debt relief plan is currently on pause due to two conservative-backed lawsuits that have blocked the implementation of the loan forgiveness, and the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on both of the cases on February 28. Each of the lawsuits challenged the authority of the HEROES Act, and the nation’s highest court will be weighing whether Biden’s use of that authority is legal.
In a recent brief for one of the lawsuits filed to the Supreme Court by the Job Creators Network on behalf of two student-loan borrowers who sued because they did not qualify for the full $20,000 amount of relief, they explained why they disagreed with the usage of the HEROES Act.
“The Government identifies not a shred of evidence that Congress believed it was authorizing the Secretary to cancel debts—let alone cancel nearly half-a-trillion dollars in debt for tens of millions of borrowers,” the brief said, referring to the Act’s authorization.
Still, Biden’s administration has long maintained that this debt relief plan is intended to remedy the economic consequences of the pandemic, which can last far longer than an emergency declaration. In its full legal defense of the debt relief to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department said the plan falls “comfortably” within the law.
“The lower courts’ orders have erroneously deprived the Secretary of his statutory authority to provide targeted student-loan debt relief to borrowers affected by national emergencies, leaving millions of economically vulnerable borrowers in limbo,” the department said.