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Senate Votes to Overturn Biden's Student Debt Forgiveness and End the Payment Pause—What Borrowers Need to Know

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The Senate passed a bill on Thursday aimed at blocking President Joe Biden's student debt forgiveness plan and ending the pause on federal student loan payments and interest.

The Republican-sponsored bill passed by a vote of 52-46 with three Democrats joining Republicans in support of the resolution. The White House vowed to veto the bill before it went before the House.

"This resolution is an unprecedented attempt to undercut our historic economic recovery and would deprive more than 40 million hard-working Americans of much-needed student debt relief," the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement on May 22.

Earlier in the week, the House voted on a bill to raise the debt ceiling, which included the condition that the pause on federal student loan payments will end after August 30. Loan forgiveness didn't make it into the resolution, despite some GOP representatives' efforts.

Currently, Biden's plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt per borrower earning less than $125,000 a year rests with the Supreme Court. The court is expected to rule by the end of June. 

Here's where things currently stand.

The payment pause will end this summer

Despite some hopes that the pause on student loan payments may be extended again if the Supreme Court strikes down debt forgiveness, the debt ceiling bill will prevent the Biden administration from extending the pause beyond August 30. Administration officials noted the date is close to the timeline they were expecting to resume collecting payments anyway.

It's unclear whether the payment pause could end earlier. Assuming Biden vetoes the bill, the Senate would need a two-thirds vote to overturn the veto and end the pause immediately. The vote approving the bill only won a simple majority.

The Biden administration had initially tied the end of the payment pause to the Supreme Court's decision on debt forgiveness, saying payments would resume 60 days after June 30 or 60 days after a Supreme Court ruling, whichever came first. The White House Office of Management and Budget did not respond to the question of whether an early Supreme Court ruling would expedite repayment. The Court is expected to rule by the end of June.

"To [student loan] borrowers, I would say, we're going to keep you first," Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona told Spectrum News prior to the Senate vote. "We're going to continue to find ways to support you, and we're going to make the onramp to repayment as painless as possible and guide you every step of the way."

House Republicans aren't the first to call for an end to the payment pause, either. In March, SoFi Bank filed a lawsuit trying to compel the federal government to resume collecting payments immediately, calling the most recent extension of the pause "unlawful on multiple grounds."

About 26 million borrowers have applied for debt forgiveness

In the brief window last fall when borrowers could apply for Biden's loan forgiveness program, 26 million people applied to see their balances reduced by up to $10,000 (up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients).

The Biden administration approved 16 million borrowers for forgiveness before it was required to stop processing applications while the legal challenges play out.

While Biden's student debt forgiveness plan has been a partisan issue since its announcement, it became especially polarizing during the recent debates over government spending.

"To the more than 40 million eligible student borrowers who are eagerly waiting to learn about the fate of their debt relief, I urge you…to watch which Republican lawmakers shamelessly vote against debt relief for you after having their own loans forgiven," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a press briefing on May 24.

Opponents of the forgiveness plan cited unfairness to non-borrowers and those who've paid off their loans. They claimed Biden doesn't have the authority to cancel the debt without congressional approval.

"President Biden's student loan transfer scheme shifts hundreds of billions of dollars of payments from student loan borrowers onto the backs of the American people," Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., who introduced the resolution in the House back in March, said in a statement.

Nearly half of Americans approve of Biden's forgiveness plan

As of mid-April, around 47% of Americans support Biden's student debt forgiveness plan in its current form, according to a USA Today/Ipsos poll. Among those who currently have student debt, 83% approve of Biden's plan. About 3 in 4 Americans who support the relief don't have any loans, the poll found.

Optimism, however, isn't quite as strong, at least among young adults. About two-thirds, 67%, say they don't think Biden's debt cancellation will come to fruition, according to a recent Scholarship Owl survey of over 11,000 college and high school students.

Correction: This story has been updated to accurately reflect a survey finding that 3 in 4 Americans who support student debt relief don't have any loans.

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