Records Point to MOHELA’s Confusion and Disarray, Underscore Missouri’s Lack of Standing to Rob Debt Relief from Tens of Millions of Student Loan Borrowers
June 16, 2023 | Washington, D.C. — Today, the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) released newly obtained internal records from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA) illustrating the anxiety and confusion that seized employees and executives inside the student loan company upon learning that Missouri’s Attorney General had sued to block President Biden’s student debt relief program. Missouri’s lawsuit, now before the U.S. Supreme Court, seeks to block debt relief for tens of millions of borrowers in part based on the dubious claim of possible economic harm to MOHELA, a private-sector student loan company chartered by the State of Missouri. Accessed through Missouri’s Sunshine Law, MOHELA’s internal emails undercut the Missouri AG’s standing claims and arguments made before the Supreme Court. These records also offer new insight into the reactions of MOHELA employees and lobbyists who learned, after the fact, that Missouri had filed suit.
Internal MOHELA documents released by SBPC are available here: https://protectborrowers.org/MOHELA-internal-emails-redacted
The documents SBPC released contained the following quotes from MOHELA staff in reaction to Missouri’s lawsuit aiming to block President Biden’s debt cancellation plan by arguing that cancellation would harm MOHELA:
- “[J]ust out of curiosity, is MOHELA apart [sic] of the lawsuit going on to prevent the loan forgiveness? Are we the bad guys?” (emphasis added)
- “Mohela isn’t technically a part of that lawsuit, the Missouri AG is suing on their behalf.” (emphasis added)
- “However, it’s all about the FFEL stuff, and since they changed the rules, that lawsuit should be ruled as lacking standing.” (emphasis added)
- “[The lawsuit] has nothing to do with us, except that they’re using the MO consumers harm as standing. No complaints about MOHELA that I’m aware of had anything to do with this.” (emphasis added)
- “I think MOHELA was opposed to this move, but couldn’t do anything about it. The MO state AG needed to claim that our borrowers were harmed for standing, so they’re making us look bad by filing this not only with MO on it, but especially bad because they filed it in MO.” (emphasis added)
In response to these revelations, SBPC Research & Policy Analyst Ella Azoulay made the following statement:
“These emails confirm what every honest observer has long understood: Missouri’s lawsuit is just a partisan hack job aimed at getting the right-wing Attorney General’s name in the paper. MOHELA’s own staff agree—the case currently before the Supreme Court that is holding up debt relief for tens of millions of borrowers lacks standing, and it should be tossed aside.”
Since President Biden first announced his intention to cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt for the vast majority of borrowers, opponents of student debt relief have filed legal challenges seeking to halt this effort.
On September 29, 2022, then-Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, joined by Republican attorneys general in Kansas, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Arkansas, along with the Solicitor General of Iowa, filed a lawsuit in federal court in the Eastern District of Missouri seeking to block President Biden’s effort to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for 40 million Americans. This lawsuit alleged that the State of Missouri, speaking on behalf of MOHELA, is suffering ongoing, irreparable harm due to increased “compliance costs” to the state-backed student loan company and the prospect of “imminent loss of revenue” should fewer Americans owe student loans. The states also argue a debt relief plan would impact their ability to collect revenue from borrowers saddled with debt for decades. In effect, a state-backed student loan company hired to act as a federal contractor is asserting it has standing to veto federal student loan policy nationwide in order to protect its profits.
Following a stay by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, in December, the Supreme Court agreed to hear this challenge—Nebraska v. Biden (recaptioned Biden v. Nebraska at the Supreme Court), along with Brown v. Biden (recaptioned Biden v. Brown at the Supreme Court), a challenge brought by student loan borrowers in Texas and funded by a right-wing dark-money group.
In January, an historic coalition of cities, states, experts, and advocates filed more than a dozen amicus curiae briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Biden Administration’s student debt relief program. In particular, a brief by Missouri consumer advocates pushed back against the opposing States’ claims of economic injury resulting from President Biden’s debt cancellation program and argued that they failed to demonstrate standing to bring forward this suit. The brief highlights MOHELA’s statutory design as an independent entity with no financial ties to the States treasury.
When President Biden announced his intent to restart student loan payments after implementing broad debt relief, he explained that the Administration’s monumental debt relief plan was a necessary first step to protect borrowers and prevent disastrous loan defaults and other financial distress, particularly in light of the ongoing economic challenges facing our nation as a result of the pandemic.
Cease and Desist sent by SBPC and the American Federation of Teachers to MOHELA threatening litigation over Missouri’s student debt relief lawsuit:
June 2022 letter from 550+ coalition urging President Biden to cancel student debt immediately: https://protectborrowers.org/550-organizations-tell-president-biden-to-cancel-student-debt-immediately/
About Student Borrower Protection Center
The Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) is a nonprofit organization focused on alleviating the burden of student debt for millions of Americans. The SBPC engages in advocacy, policymaking, and litigation strategy to rein in industry abuses, protect borrowers’ rights, and advance economic opportunity for the next generation of students.