Lucero Limas fell into teaching by accident after she completed a double bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology and needed a job.

As she worked, the Gadsden Independent School District teacher found herself returning to school to earn a master’s degree, wracking up $45,000 in student loans. Limas hoped to see a portion of that balance erased under the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan, but that hope was ripped away Friday morning after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.

Though disappointed, Limas said she was not surprised.

“We’ve been holding our breath for a while because we thought that we would have a fair shot at having our student loans forgiven. But as the deadline approached, we kind of figured out that it wasn’t going to go our way, especially after the way SCOTUS has been making radical decisions,” Limas told El Paso Matters.

Now Limas and 2.1 million Texans will have to begin repaying their student loan debt in October. This includes an estimated 121,000 people in Texas’ 16th Congressional District — which encompasses El Paso, Horizon and Socorro — who were eligible for student debt relief, according to data provided by the Biden administration in February.

“I feel like I’m fortunate to know how to handle my finances so that way I can make the minimum payments,” Limas said about the prospect of beginning repayments. “I’m looking at my options in case something doesn’t work out. I’ll be budgeting more than anything, but I’m hoping that inflation will get better.”

President Joe Biden’s loan forgiveness plan would have given individuals making less than $125,000 a year or married couples with less than $250,000 up to $10,000 off their federal student loans. Those who received a Pell Grant would have been eligible to get up to $20,000 forgiven.

As of March, 3.8 million Texas have a combined total of $127.3 billion in student loan debt, according to data from the Office of Federal Student Aid.

During the 2020-21 school year, UTEP reported that  6,812, or 34% of its undergraduates, received federal student loans in the 2020-21 school year. That same year, El Paso Community College reported that 477, or about 2% of its students received federal loans. 

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Biden did not have the authority to issue the forgiveness plan under the HEROES Act, which allowed the education secretary to change student loan programs for those affected by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In 2003, Congress extended the act to include students impacted by war or a national emergency.

The court said that such a major policy change required congressional approval. Most Republicans in Congress have opposed the debt relief plan, saying it is unfair for other taxpayers to pay off the student loan debts that are held by a minority of the population.

President Joe Biden descends from Air Force One as he arrives for his first official visit to the border on Jan. 8. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

In response to the ruling, Biden promised to pursue a new path to offer student loan debt relief through the Higher Education Act of 1965 — though details are still scarce.

“This new path is legally sound. It’s going to take longer, but, in my view, it’s the best path that remains to providing for as many borrowers as possible with debt relief,” Biden said during a briefing on Friday.

He also promised to enact an “on-ramp” repayment program, that will temporarily prevent missed student loan payments from harming a person’s credit or the threat of default. 

Limas also started to look into alternative ways to get some of her student debt relieved, especially after her tuition came out higher than she expected. She said she was initially offered the opportunity to return to school to study public health with a discount, but later learned the program was only meant for those pursuing a degree in education.

Some of these options include the Teacher Loan Forgiveness, which erases up to $17,500 in student loans after five complete and consecutive years of teaching at a qualifying school.

Claudia Silva was born and raised in El Paso and studied journalism at New Mexico State University. She's covered a number of topics, from education to arts and culture, in both Texas and New Mexico.