UCC congregations abolish $9 million in medical debt

July 4, 2021

Financial gifts from 92 people in eight United Church of Christ congregations located in and near Washington, D.C. – together with contributions from wider church agencies – have abolished over $9 million in medical debt in four states, including more than $450,000 in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and West Virginia.

More than 7,800 households will soon receive letters telling them that their medical debt has been forgiven.

At a June 29 news conference, local, regional and national church leaders announced the UCC’s latest debt-relief campaign raised $65,522. The gifts were sent to the New York-based nonprofit RIP Medical Debt, which bought up debt for pennies on the dollar in April.

The purchase wiped out $9,031,581 in medical debt for 7,817 households. The average amount forgiven per household was $1,155.

In Delaware, $97,665 in debt was wiped out in all three counties. In Sussex County, more than $29,000 of debt from 25 households was abolished.

The Rev. Timothy Tutt, senior minister of the Westmoreland Congregational UCC, Bethesda, Md., Bethesda church, noted that the money was raised in 2020 during the COVID-19 crisis. “One of the things that pandemic showed us is that medical care in this country is precarious and life is fragile,” he said. “I’m very proud that this network of UCC churches came together during the pandemic to help alleviate medical debt for our neighbors. At a time when people were isolated, trapped and afraid, we reached out with communal dollars to care for the vulnerable and at-risk.”

Specific criteria were used in the buy. Qualifying debtors were those earning less than two times the federal poverty level; in financial hardship, with out-of-pocket expenses that are 5 percent or more of their annual income; or facing insolvency, with debts greater than assets.

The debt buy was made anonymously; the UCC does not know who specifically benefited from it. Through RIP Medical Debt, a yellow envelope bearing a UCC logo is on the way to each benefiting family, with a letter naming contributing congregations and organizations. It reads: “You may never enter the doors of one of our churches, but we are the United Church of Christ and we love you. … Most importantly, you are beloved by God and your debt has been forgiven.”

The UCC sees it as an opportunity to draw attention to what the Rev. Traci Blackmon, associate general minister, calls “the unconscionable cost and profiteering of healthcare in the United States and their devastating impact on families.”

“Medical debt still is the leading cause of U.S. bankruptcies and aggressive debt collection,” said the Rev. Sekinah Hamlin, UCC minister of economic justice. “No one should be penalized because they are too poor to be well.”

“Jesus healed people. Helping to pay off medical debt for people in need is one way that we, as Christians, as UCC’ers, may follow in the Jesus way. Paying off medical debt helps ease financial, emotional and mental pain. That’s healing,” said Tutt.


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