Following mounting pressure from Democratic lawmakers and advocates, the Education Department said it would allow another opportunity to expand its second student-debt relief plan.
On Wednesday, the Education Department announced it will hold a fourth negotiation session on February 22 and 23 to discuss including borrowers with financial hardship in its second attempt at student-debt cancellation.
According to a source familiar with the department’s plans, the discussion at this fourth session will aim to identify borrowers experiencing hardship beyond the prior sessions’ categories and define the hardship’s scope for delivering relief.
The source also said that the department is mindful of staying within the limits the Supreme Court set forth when it struck down President Joe Biden’s first attempt at broad relief in June as it determines which borrowers should be eligible for relief.
Since June 2023, the department has been working on a new route for relief under the Higher Education Act of 1965. Under that law, the department must participate in negotiations with stakeholders to help craft the new rule — and in December, it concluded the third, and what it planned to be the final, round of negotiations.
However, some of the negotiators, along with advocates and Democratic lawmakers, expressed disappointment with the department’s proposal for relief at the end of the sessions. While it put forth five groups of borrowers to include in relief, a category for borrowers experiencing hardship was omitted — prompting a push for an additional negotiation session to discuss those borrowers.
The Education Department agreed to that request. Undersecretary of Education James Kvaal said in a statement that “the Biden-Harris Administration will never stop working to deliver student debt relief for borrowers.”
“We look forward to discussing another avenue for borrower relief related to hardship at our next negotiation session,” Kvaal said.
Public comment will be available on February 22 at 3 p.m. Eastern Time.
Even with the additional session, it’s unclear if the department will include borrowers with financial hardship in its final proposal for debt cancellation. However, it’s a sign the department is open to considering expanding the scope of the relief as it moves forward in the negotiated rulemaking process.
Following this final round of negotiations, the department will finalize its proposal and post it to the Federal Register to allow a 30-day public comment period. Under the HEA’s timeline, the plan would not go into effect until 2025 — but the education secretary can opt for early implementation to get relief to borrowers sooner.