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As Biden’s student loan relief faces legal challenges, Pressley and other Democrats reaffirm their commitment

Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston, flanked by fellow Democratic representatives, Mondaire Jones of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, spoke during a news conference on student debt cancellation on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday.Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Representative Ayanna Pressley and other lawmakers who led the effort to convince President Biden to cancel some student loan debt called on Thursday for an “equitable and immediate” implementation of the controversial program even as opponents filed another lawsuit to stop it.

“We are making good on the promise of education is opportunity,” the Boston Democrat said at a news conference outside the US Capitol. “We are fighting hard together for a more just future, and we will not allow anyone to get in the way of that.”

The Department of Education intends to unveil the loan forgiveness application in October, and on Thursday it sent an e-mail explaining eligibility requirements and next steps to Americans who signed up for updates.


Pressley and other Democrats successfully pushed Biden to use his executive authority to forgive a large portion of student loan debt. He announced his plan last month to cancel up to $10,000 of student debt, with an additional $10,000 in relief available for people who received federal Pell Grants, which go to those with the greatest need for college financial aid.

The Biden administration estimates about 40 million Americans — including more than 800,000 Massachusetts residents — will be eligible for loan forgiveness under the plan. Roughly half of the state’s residents are Pell Grant recipients.

But two lawsuits filed in recent days threaten to derail the program.

On Thursday, six Republican-led states filed suit against the Biden administration, alleging that the program oversteps the president’s executive powers. That followed a suit filed this week against the Department of Education by an Indiana lawyer who contended he will be harmed by the debt relief.

The man, Frank Garrison, a lawyer for the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, says the program will force him to pay state taxes on his canceled student debt. Around half a dozen states subject forgiven loan amounts to state taxes. The White House said that lawsuit is baseless because any eligible borrower can choose to opt out.


Pressley said Thursday that she was focused on ensuring that all eligible borrowers can receive the debt forgiveness.

“There have already been some bad actors at work. I’m putting loan service providers on notice,” she said. “If you try to mislead a single borrower out of the relief that they demand and they deserve, we will not let you get away with it and we will hold you accountable.”

After the program takes effect, Pressley said she aims to work on the broader issue of college affordability, specifically establishing tuition-free community college. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, echoed her call and said he also wanted to “go further on student debt.”

“We’ve done a great thing, but we have more steps to go,” he said at the news conference. “We will keep fighting in that direction.”

Republican lawmakers have called the debt relief program a government handout for the wealthy and criticized the plan’s price tag. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that the program will cost roughly $400 billion over the next 30 years.

The program applies to people making up to $125,000 a year, or households with less than $250,000 in annual income. The Biden administration said nearly 90 percent of the student loan relief will go to people earning less than $75,000 a year.


Schumer called his Republican colleagues’ lack of support for the program “disgraceful.”

“This helps poor people who are struggling to get to the middle class, middle-class people who are struggling to stay in the middle class,” he said. “And that’s why the Republicans don’t like it. They only want to help the rich.”

Pressley also pushed back against some economists who have predicted that student loan forgiveness would add to inflation. Instead, she said it was “a way with which to jumpstart the economy” as it continues to recover from the pandemic. She added that the three pauses in student loan repayment put in place during the pandemic by former president Donald Trump and then Biden allowed people to stay in their homes, buy essential goods, and in some cases, become first-time homeowners.

For that, Pressley said she makes “no apologies for a victory that is going to unburden” millions of people with student loan debt. “It was the right thing,” she said.

Shannon Coan can be reached at shannon.coan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonccoan.