Student loan forgiveness application form unveiled – but White House still not ready to launch

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In the face of multiple legal challenges, the White House on Tuesday released a preview of the application form for the president's one-time student debt relief cancellation.

The application, which will be accessible on cell phones as well as computers, will be published in both English and Spanish and designed for people with disabilities. It will require entering a Social Security number.

The application also will require the borrower to sign and agree to a form about what they earn. Anyone who is found to have provided false information would be subject to significant fines and perhaps jail time, according to White House officials.

Officials described the application as "simple and straight forward," keeps questions to a minimum and was designed after being tested.

When the form will go live is still up in the air, however.

"We don’t have an announcement to make on the launch date," a White House official said on a call with reporters.

Biden senior administration officials, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said it's "full steam ahead" with the student loan cancellation plan even amid legal challenges from Republican-led states. Officials did not provide a release date – or a website where borrowers can access the application – but said the White House is on track for an October launch after initially targeting "early October." They also shared a video about the application.

Applicants will not be required to log in with their federal student aid ID, nor will they have to upload any documents.

When news first broke about the White House's debt forgiveness plan, its website focused on federal financial aid buckled under the weight of borrower interest. Officials said they're using "best practices and lessons learned" to make sure the site can handle the volume of applications.

Borrowers are eligible to receive $10,000 or $20,000 in debt relief depending on their income and whether they received a Pell Grant in college. The Education Department has said borrowers who apply in October could have a chunk of their debt wiped out as soon as November. The feds have encouraged borrowers to file their forms by Nov. 15 if they want the debt cancellation applied to their balances before the end of a freeze on payments that began during the pandemic and ends in January. Borrowers will have through the end of 2023 to apply for the student debt relief.

When will student loans be forgiven?: What to know about debt relief applications

Who is suing over student loan forgiveness?

About 43 million people hold $1.6 trillion in federal student loans, and about 40 million are expected to qualify for the one-time debt cancellation. But the loan program, or at least the publicly available details about it, has evolved as the application window approached and legal challenges mounted. These changes mean fewer applicants can take advantage of the relief.

One group, the Pacific Legal Foundation, sued to stop mass cancellation on the grounds that borrowers living in some states would be unfairly taxed. But within days of that suit being filed, the White House said borrowers would be able to opt out of the relief plan. A federal judge in Indiana dismissed the group’s request to halt the forgiveness plan, saying the plaintiff couldn't be injured if his debt wasn't being forgiven.

More: Legal challenges stack up for Biden's student debt forgiveness plan

Six conservatives states – Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina, filed a suit together, arguing Biden had overstepped his authority. A hearing in that case, in Missouri federal court, is scheduled for Wednesday.

The states also said quasi-state agencies that service old student loans in the FFEL program would lose money. Those loans are backed by the federal government but held by commercial banks. Prior to Sept. 29, the government had allowed borrowers to consolidate these loans into one loan owned by the federal government, thereby allowing it to cancel student debt.

The states argue they would lose money because borrowers would collectively ditch their existing FFEL loans for those offered by the government. On the same day the lawsuit filed, the federal government barred any remaining FFEL borrowers from consolidating their loans.

The federal government has said the new policy will cut nearly 800,000 borrowers from the debt forgiveness program, though nearly 4 million borrowers have FFEL loans.

The state of Arizona also sued the Biden administration, arguing the widespread availability of debt relief would steer some borrowers away from the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. That’s a government initiative meant to encourage workers to forgo the high wages in the private sector and opt for work in the public sector. After a decade in these roles, a borrower's entire outstanding loan balance may be forgiven.

Other legal challenges were dismissed almost as quickly as they were filed. In Wisconsin, a conservative group attempted to stop the debt cancellation by arguing the president didn't have the authority to cancel debt. It also claimed the White House intentionally crafted the program to benefit borrowers of color, which they say violated the constitution's guarantee of equal protection of the laws. The suit was filed on Oct. 4th, and by Oct. 6th a judge had dismissed the case, saying the group didn't have standing.

How much will the president's student debt relief plan cost?

It depends on whom you ask. The federal government has estimated the plan would cost about $30 billion a year for the next 10 years, or $300 billion over the next decade. The Congressional Budget Office put that cost at about $400 billion over the next 30 years, though it added in a report that such measurements are “highly uncertain.” That model is based on 90% of eligible applicants filling out their forms, a high adoption rate that has raised some skepticism from the White House.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated the debt cancellation will cost about $360 billion.

Contact Chris Quintana at (202) 308-9021 or Follow him on Twitter at @CQuintanadc.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Student loan forgiveness application unveiled; launch date still TBD