United Church of Christ congregations based in New England recently helped to eliminate $26.2 million in medical debt for families in seven states and first responders nationwide.
The amount was raised by a coalition of 122 UCC congregations, four associations, and over 100 households based in the mainline Protestant denomination’s Southern New England Conference.
The regional UCC body worked to raise the money in cooperation with a New York-based nonprofit called RIP Medical Debt, which buys medical debt at a reduced price.
This is the second major buy that the denomination has overseen, making the total amount of medical debt paid for $51.8 million, according to a UCC announcement on Sunday.
The Rev. Jocelyn Gardner Spencer, senior pastor of the United Church on the Green in New Haven, Connecticut, was part of the charitable endeavor.
“Our scriptures call us to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to let the oppressed go free,” said Gardner Spencer in a statement.
“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.”
In February, conference leaders sent a letter out to churches, calling on involvement in the medical debt relief effort, seeing it as part of “our commitment to living the love and justice of Jesus.”
“This debt abolishment targets those living at or below the poverty guidelines, people for whom there is no reasonable expectation that they would ever be able to recover alone,” stated the letter.
“By joining the mission of RIP Medical Debt, we can help by locating, purchasing, and abolishing unpaid and unpayable medical debt of those in some of the neediest Southern New England communities; including Springfield, MA, Bridgeport and Hartford, CT, and Providence, RI.”
The UCC is planning to perform future buys of medical debt for other regions of the United States as part of a campaign scheduled to continue until the summer of next year.
RIP Medical Debt was launched in 2014 and has often partnered with individual congregations across the United States with the goal of raising money to eliminate medical debt.
Using the money raised, the nonprofit is able to purchase medical debt for pennies on the dollar through the collection system and then forgive the debt so that those in debt have no expenses.
In September, RIP Medical Debt worked with an Illinois nondenominational church called VIVE Chicago to raise $100,000 that went to paying off over $19 million in medical debt.
VIVE Lead Pastor Adam Smallcombe said in a statement shared with The Christian Post at the time that financial debt was “a type of modern-day slavery imprisoning whole families.”
“As the church and as Christians our mandate is to liberate people from all kinds of oppression because only free people can truly free people,” said Smallcombe.
“That's why we felt as leaders it was necessary to bring this initiative to our church and they responded with bold faith and generosity.”