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9 million Americans wrongly told they were approved for student debt forgiveness

Supreme Court to hear case on student loan relief
Supreme Court to hear case on Biden's student loan forgiveness program in 2023 00:22

About 9 million Americans with student loans who had applied for the Biden administration's student-debt forgiveness program mistakenly received emails last month that said their applications had been approved. 

The messages were part of updates the Department of Education issued in November to inform 16 million debt relief applicants that they had been approved to have up to $20,000 forgiven. But an additional 9 million people received emails saying they had received loan forgiveness when they had not been approved for relief because the process was halted due to legal challenges, according to officials. And others who hadn't yet applied for the student loan relief program also received the email. 

The error was made by Accenture Federal Services, a contractor with the Education Department, which sent the emails on November 22 and 23. The mistake may only compound confusion among some borrowers about the debt-relief program, which for now remains in limbo due to several legal challenges, with the Supreme Court earlier this month agreeing to hear one of the cases. 

About 26 million people had applied for the loan relief effort prior to the court rulings that have effectively stopped the Biden administration's ability to accept new applications. In the meantime, the Biden administration has extended the pause on student debt repayments, which were slated to resume in January, until as late as June 30, 2023, to give borrowers more breathing room while the legal challenges move forward.

On December 8, the Job Creators Network, a conservative group, said it submitted a request to the Supreme Court to hear a second case relating to the loan-relief program. It is asking the high court to reject the Biden administration's request to stay a lower court decision that blocks the loan-forgiveness plan. 

In its request, the Job Creators Network is asking the Supreme Court to hear its case on the same day it hears the other legal challenge to the program, which stems from a case brought by six Republican-led states that are arguing the Biden administration is overstepping its executive powers with the loan-relief program.

The Job Creators Network had sued in October, arguing the Biden administration violated federal procedures by failing to seek public input on the program. 

"Corrective action"

"Communicating clearly and accurately with borrowers is a top priority of the Department," a spokesperson for the Education Department said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. "We are in close touch with Accenture Federal Services as they take corrective action to ensure all borrowers and those affected have accurate information about debt relief."

The email subject line incorrectly informed 9 million recipients: "Your Student Loan Debt Relief Plan Has Been Approved." However, the text of the letter was accurate, letting those recipients know that the determination of their eligibility would continue "if and when we prevail in court."

Corrected emails will be sent to those recipients and those who received the email in error within the next few days. 

In a statement to CBS MoneyWatch, Accenture blamed the issue on "human error."

"Accenture Federal Services regrets the human error that led to an email being sent to a number of student loan debt relief applicants with an inaccurate subject line," the firm said. "Working closely with the Department, Accenture Federal Services will review quality control measures to support accurate and timely communications to applicants in the Student Loan Debt Relief program."

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