The Biden administration on Friday asked the Supreme Court to allow its controversial student loan debt relief program to take effect while legal challenges unfold across the country.

The program promises to offer up to $20,000 in debt relief to millions of borrowers, but was suspended after lower courts across the country blocked it.

About 26 million people had already applied for the program by the time a federal judge froze it on Nov. 10, prompting the government to stop taking applications. No debt has been canceled to date.

After receiving the government’s brief, the Supreme Court asked the plaintiffs for a response by noon on Wednesday, November 23.

A “misguided injunction” from a federal appeals court, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the Supreme Court, “leaves millions of economically vulnerable borrowers in limbo, uncertain about the size of their debt and unable make financial decisions with an accurate understanding of their future. reimbursement obligation.

Government lawyers say President Joe Biden acted to address the financial damage of the pandemic and “smooth the transition to repayment” to provide targeted debt relief to some federal student loan borrowers affected by the pandemic.

Federal student loan payments are set to restart in January after a year-long pandemic pause.

The program is designed to help borrowers most at risk of delinquency or default. Once debt cancellation begins, the plan could provide up to $10,000 in student debt relief to eligible borrowers earning less than $125,000 ($250,000 per household).

Additionally, borrowers who have received a Pell Grant can receive up to $20,000 in relief.

The authority exists under the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, or the HEROES Act, according to the administration. He argues that the law exempts the government from otherwise applicable procedural requirements, including developing notice and comment rules.

“Because borrowers who default on their student loans face serious financial consequences — including wage garnishment, long-term credit damage, and ineligibility for federal benefits — Congress specifically authorized the secretary (of education) to waive or vary any applicable law or regulation as he deems necessary to ensure that borrowers affected by a national emergency are not worse off in relation to their student loans ,” Prelogar wrote in Friday’s filing.

The ongoing dispute is brought by a group of states, led by Nebraska, who argue that the student loan debt relief plan violates the Separation of Powers and Administrative Procedure Act, a federal law that governs the process by which federal agencies issue regulations.

The Biden administration stresses that the challengers cannot demonstrate the legal prejudice necessary to take the case to court.

But if the challengers survive this threshold issue, several conservative justices may be interested in the merits of the dispute over whether a federal agency has the authority to award such broad relief. In the past, conservatives on the Supreme Court have looked with skepticism at the so-called administrative state, which they say violates the separation of powers.

A district court ruled the states lacked the legal right or ‘standing’ to prevail, but the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, issuing a nationwide injunction blocking the program. He relied on the “irreversible impact” the debt forgiveness action would have and on the fact that the collection of student loan repayments, as well as the accrual of interest on student loans would otherwise be suspended while legal challenges unfold.

A separate challenge is also pending in federal court brought by two individual borrowers – Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor – who do not qualify for full debt forgiveness and who say they were not given an opportunity to comment. the Education Secretary’s decision to provide targeted students with certain debt relief.

This story has been updated with additional details.