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Press Release AG’s Office Leads Supreme Court Brief in Support of the Biden Administration’s Student Debt Cancellation Plan

Coalition Argues That the Biden Administration Acted Within Its Statutory Authority by Issuing Debt Relief to Borrowers Affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic
For immediate release:
1/11/2023
  • Office of the Attorney General

Media Contact for AG’s Office Leads Supreme Court Brief in Support of the Biden Administration’s Student Debt Cancellation Plan

Roxana Martinez-Gracias

BOSTONThe Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office is leading a coalition of 22 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in support of the federal government in two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the Biden Administration’s targeted cancellation of student loan debt to address the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The amicus brief, filed today in the cases Biden v. Nebraska and Department of Education v. Brown, argues that U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has the authority under the HEROES Act to provide limited debt cancellation to prevent student loan borrowers from experiencing grave financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, the Secretary announced plans to grant $10,000 in debt relief for borrowers under certain income thresholds, and $20,000 in debt relief to borrowers who met those income thresholds and also received a Pell Grant in college. This debt relief seeks to ensure that borrowers affected by the pandemic do not face catastrophic defaults at the conclusion of a nearly three-year pause in loan repayment obligations.

The debt cancellation plan was challenged in September and November 2022 in Biden v. Nebraska and Department of Education v. Brown, respectively. The federal government is now asking the Supreme Court to lift injunctions of the plan granted by the lower courts that blocked the Secretary from granting this debt cancellation relief during the pendency of the legal challenges and to uphold the Secretary’s action.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense financial harm to millions of families and borrowers. The Biden Administration’s debt cancellation plan will help prevent student loan borrowers from needlessly suffering even more pandemic-related economic harm, including the devastating cascade of harms that follow from default,” said Acting Attorney General Bessie Dewar. “As state attorneys general, we are calling on the Supreme Court to uphold the Secretary’s authority to provide much-needed relief to people across the country who have been affected by this unprecedented pandemic.”

The coalition argues in the brief that targeted debt cancellation is an appropriate and necessary use of the Secretary of Education’s authority under the HEROES Act. The brief emphasizes the ongoing financial harm that the pandemic has caused student borrowers, and the evidence that a spike in pandemic-related defaults is likely to occur upon lifting of the current student loan repayment pause. The brief describes the catastrophic financial impacts such pandemic-related defaults would have on borrowers and how those impacts would also harm state economies. The coalition argues that the federal government appropriately granted relief that was targeted to prevent these outcomes and that the Secretary acted well within his authority under the HEROES Act in using debt cancellation as a tool for responding to pandemic-related harms.

The brief also argues that states have an interest in ensuring the well-being of their residents, explaining that state economies benefit when residents are protected from suffering preventable harms stemming from student loan defaults that could imperil their job prospects, housing security, and access to some federal benefits. 

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has a long history of advocating on behalf of student borrowers. In January 2022, the AG’s Office announced a $1.85 billion settlement with student loan servicer Navient, following allegations of widespread and deceptive student loan servicing practices and abuses in originating predatory student loans. In February 2021, the office also secured first-of-its-kind relief in a settlement with the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency over unfair and deceptive practices in relation to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Joining Acting AG Dewar in the brief are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

To find a copy of the brief in full, please click here.

This matter was handled by Acting AG Dewar and Yael Shavit, Managing Attorney of the AG’s Consumer Protection Division.

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Media Contact for AG’s Office Leads Supreme Court Brief in Support of the Biden Administration’s Student Debt Cancellation Plan

Office of the Attorney General 

The Attorney General is the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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