Churches raise enough to erase about $26M in medical debt

BOSTON (AP) — More than 100 United Church of Christ congregations across southern New England have helped raise enough money to erase a total of $26.2 million in medical debt for thousands of families across the Northeast and more than 12,000 first responders and medical workers nationwide.

The churches in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, along with four church associations, and more than 100 households raised more than $200,000, the denomination announced Sunday.

That money went to the New-York based nonprofit RIP Medical Debt, which bought debt in August from collection agencies for pennies on the dollar. That debt will now be forgiven.

About $8.4 million in medical debt for 7,175 households in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont will be wiped out.

In addition, another $17.8 million in debt for 12,144 health care workers and first responders across the U.S. will be erased.

All will receive letters telling them that their medical debt has been forgiven.

“In the midst of a pandemic that is disproportionately impacting communities of color and with widespread unemployment causing people to lose their insurance just when they may need it most, eliminating medical debt for vulnerable individuals and families is a tangible way in which we are responding to our call to make God’s love and justice real,” the Rev. Jocelyn Gardner Spencer, senior pastor of the United Church on the Green in New Haven, Connecticut, said in a statement.

The families that had their debt forgiven make less than two times the federal poverty level, are financially burdened, and have out-of-pocket expenses that are 5% or more of their annual income or have debts worth more than their assets, according to the church.

The United Church of Christ has held similar debt-forgiveness efforts across the nation.