Biden declares COVID-19 emergency over, new legal challenge to loan forgiveness on the horizon

This week the White House issued a statement giving a timeline for ending the Covid emergency this spring, furthering legal challenges to Biden's debt forgiveness plan.

The HEROES Act, which Biden uses as legal justification for executive authority over student loan forgiveness, is only applicable during national emergencies.

On Monday, President Biden declared that the COVID-19 national emergency will officially end on May 11, 2023, raising another legal challenge to his student loan forgiveness plan.

The Biden administration in August 2022 announced a plan to forgive up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for eligible borrowers, using the COVID-19 national emergency declaration as the impetus, as Campus Reform has covered extensively.

In defense of the White House’s debt forgiveness plan, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a statement citing the HEROES Act of 2003 to justify executive authority in canceling student debt.

“[T]argeting relief towards those individuals who suffered financial hardship because of COVID -19,” according to the DOJ, ensures that borrowers are not financially harmed because of the national emergency, which the DOJ purports to be in the spirit of the original legislation.

This week, however, the White House issued a statement giving a timeline for ending the Covid emergency this spring.

[RELATED: Reports warn borrowers to spend refunds ‘wisely’ before Supreme Court decides loan forgiveness]

Although a joint resolution was introduced in the House on January 9 proposing an end to the pandemic, the White House argues, “[a]n abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty,” according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

If the national emergency is over, however, using the HEROES Act as legal justification for the executive branch to have the power to forgive student debt becomes more circumspect as judges have already ruled the plan unconstitutional

But the White House believes differently. 

An anonymous insider in the Biden administration provided exclusive comment to Business Insider, saying that they are unconcerned by Monday’s declaration because the long-term effects of the national emergency will persist after May 11.

The unnamed administrator told Business Insider that “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.”

“Many of those borrowers still face risk of default on their student loans due to that emergency,” continued the administrator. “Congress gave the Secretary of Education the authority under the HEROES Act to take steps to prevent that harm, and he is.”

[RELATED: 9 million Americans mistakenly told they were approved for debt forgiveness] 

The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on February 28 from two different lawsuits against the Biden administration regarding whether the use of the HEROES Act in this way is constitutional, according to Business Insider.

Biden tweeted on January 28, “It’s simple: our Administration is confident that our student debt relief program is fully legal. And we’re not backing down that easy.”

The Department of Education responded to Campus Reform’s request for comment with the same statement verbatim that was provided to Business Insider.

The White House has not responded to the request for comment, but Campus Reform will update the story accordingly.

Follow Gabrielle M. Etzel on Twitter.