WATCH: Student debt relief is in legal limbo, but advocates still have a ‘toolbox’ of solutions

President Joe Biden’s latest student debt cancellation plan, designed to clear up to $20,000 in student loan debt for some 40 million Americans, is going to be in legal limbo until the Supreme Court rules on its constitutionality. So what’s next for borrowers and the broader fight for debt cancellation?

The PBS NewsHour’s Nicole Ellis sat down with Jalil Mustaffa Bishop, co-founder of Equity Research Cooperative, a nonprofit focused on racial justice research, to explain how we got here and how the current system disproportionately burdens students of color.

Watch the full conversation in the player above.

Bishop said politics are a major factor in stalling the Biden administration’s plan. He noted that conservative think tanks and Republican lawmakers openly encouraged an onslaught of lawsuits when Biden announced the policy.

Multiple legal challenges have been thrown out by the courts based on the inability to demonstrate harm to the people suing. But two have succeeded in temporarily halting the debt relief on the grounds of executive overreach, including one by six GOP-led states that is scheduled to be argued before the Supreme Court in late February.

WATCH: How student loan debt disproportionately hurts Black borrowers

Last month, U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, a Trump appointee, deemed the plan an “unconstitutional exercise of Congress’s legislative power” in his ruling favoring two borrowers who were partially or fully ineligible for loan forgiveness. The plaintiffs are backed by the Job Creators Network Foundation, a conservative advocacy group founded by Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus. The Biden administration appealed the ruling.

“I understand the immediate reaction of, ‘I don’t want my tax dollars to go to cancel this student debt,’” Bishop said. “[But] the student loan crisis is… not irresponsible people now getting a bailout. …[It] is … irresponsible policymaking that has, year after year, now decade after decade, forced borrowers who are trying to get their education … to take on this student debt.”

Bishop said it’s a common misconception that Americans with student debt must have high-paying jobs and can afford their loan payments, when in reality “40 percent of borrowers have student debt and no degree.”

The existing policy is based on what Bishop called an irresponsible promise that “if you financed your education through debt, you’re going to earn an income that allows you to repay. And we have known for decades that, increasingly, that just simply hasn’t been a promise that is true.”

On average, Black college and university students are more likely to go into debt and to borrow larger amounts than white students. They are also more likely to shoulder that burden for longer, as interest accrues and their debt grows. According to a fact sheet released by the White House, the average Black borrower “who started college in the 1995-96 school year still owed 95% of their original student debt.”

This problem garnered national attention in 2019, when Robert F. Smith paid off the student loan debt of the entire graduating class of the historically Black Morehouse College after finding that 60 percent of the “additional income and wealth that these black families have will go into servicing their student loans,” Bishop said.

READ MORE: Student loan debt has a lasting effect on Black borrowers, despite the latest freeze in payments

Bishop said the negative economic ramifications are widespread among borrowers of color. Many are unable to buy a home, plan a family or pay down their balances.

So what if Biden’s plan is ultimately defeated? Bishop said that there are other legal avenues and tools that the administration can pursue.

“I still have a lot of hope because I know that the solution and the answers to student debt cancellation is in-house,” he said, adding that grassroots advocates will continue to push for relief.