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Mass. borrowers react to federal court ruling blocking student debt relief program

Student loan borrowers in Massachusetts say they're disappointed but not surprised that the Biden administration's student debt relief program was blocked by a federal judge in Texas late Thursday.

In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Mark T. Pittman, a Trump appointee, called the program a "complete usurpation" of congressional authority by the office of the president.

The decision comes several weeks after a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the program in a separate legal challenge by six states. As the result of these rulings, the Biden administration has temporarily stopped accepting applications, according to an update posted to the U.S. Department of Education website on Friday.

For many borrowers who had either already applied for student debt relief or were planning to apply after graduation, this most recent court decision almost felt expected. The Texas case was brought by Job Creators Network Foundation on behalf of student loan borrowers who do not qualify for relief.

"There was so much pressure from people who don't believe in student debt forgiveness," said Tim Scalona, a second-year student at Suffolk University Law School.

Scalona will owe about $170,000 in student loans when he graduates next year. While the debt relief he qualifies for as a low-income, first-generation student won't put a huge dent in his overall debt, every dollar makes a difference.

The Biden administration is appealing the courts' rulings. Scalona is hopeful that the program will eventually survive further legal challenges. Still, the back and forth is stressful.

"People in the balance, they don't know what to expect or even if they'll get the support that was promised," he said.

Biden's plan would cancel $10,000 in student loan debt for individuals making less than $125,000 and an additional $10,000 for Pell Grant recipients. Roughly 800,000 Massachusetts' residents are eligible for loan forgiveness under the plan.

Walter Nutter, a 71-year-old resident of Oakham, Mass., says he was looking forward to lower payments under the debt relief program. He estimates that his monthly bill would decrease by about $100.

"[The payment] is a little anchor on my budget that's hanging there all the time," he said.

Nutter adds that he's lucky because he can afford to make payments with or without the debt relief program.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts' congressional delegation weighed in on Judge Pittman's decision.

"I repeat, the President has the legal authority to cancel student debt," Pressley said in a tweet Thursday evening. "Republicans & far right extremist judges kindly move aside and stop holding up the people’s relief."

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 26 million borrowers nationwide have provided the federal government with the necessary information to process their debt relief program applications. So far, 16 million applications have been approved.

The court challenges are playing out as federal loan payments are expected to resume Jan. 1 following a pandemic pause.

U.S Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona also reacted to the decision Thursday, as he posted on Twitter, "Despite this decision, we will never stop fighting for the millions of hardworking students and borrowers across the country."

Related:

Carrie Jung Twitter Senior Reporter, Edify
Carrie is a senior education reporter with Edify.

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