The Education Department has held its first public hearing on President Joe Biden's new student-debt relief plan. This comes after the Supreme Court struck down Biden's initial route for debt relief in June. The administration is now attempting to utilize the Higher Education Act of 1965, which is expected to take longer than the previous plan.
The public hearing focused on the administration's proposal to cancel student debt using the Higher Education Act of 1965. This act grants the Education Department the authority to enforce, pay, compromise, waive, or release any right, claim, lien, or demand related to federal student debt. The Supreme Court ruling in June blocked Biden's plan to cancel student debt using the HEROES Act of 2003, deeming it an overreach of authority in relation to pandemic-related debt relief.
Unlike the HEROES Act, the Higher Education Act requires the Education Department to follow the negotiated rulemaking process. This process involves soliciting public comments and holding hearings to gather feedback from stakeholders, which will shape Biden's final proposal.
During the public hearing, Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal expressed the administration's goal of providing debt relief to borrowers, particularly those from working- and middle-class backgrounds. The aim is to assist borrowers who are burdened with unaffordable and unreasonable debts. Kvaal emphasized the administration's commitment to helping as many borrowers as possible within the constraints of the law.
Following the public hearing, the Education Department plans to schedule negotiation sessions, with three sessions expected to occur at approximately four-week intervals. This process is anticipated to take longer due to the negotiated rulemaking requirements, which has prompted Democratic lawmakers to urge the administration to expedite the relief efforts, especially with the resumption of loan payments scheduled for October.
Republican lawmakers, however, remain opposed to Biden's new relief plan, as well as the administration's proposal to implement a new income-driven repayment plan to lower monthly payments. Top Republican on the House education committee Virginia Foxx criticized the administration's plans, stating that they are illegal, inflationary, and irresponsible.
Overall, the Education Department's public hearing marked the beginning of the process to provide student-debt relief, with the administration aiming to assist borrowers in need while adhering to the requirements of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The negotiation and rulemaking process is expected to take time, and there are differing opinions among lawmakers regarding the legality and effectiveness of the proposed relief measures.