Medical debt wiped out for 255 Coffee County households

The United Church of Christ sent a present over the holidays to 2,950 families in Arkansas and Tennessee. People in those households have been opening letters that say their medical debt has been forgiven.

In the denomination’s latest debt buy, 20 churches of the UCC’s St. Louis-based Missouri Mid-South Conference have abolished $3.9 million in medical debt for families in 43 counties in Arkansas and 58 counties in Tennessee. 

At a Jan. 10 news conference, local, regional and national church leaders will announce that the UCC’s latest debt-relief campaign raised $30,000. The gifts were sent to the New York-based nonprofit RIP Medical Debt, which bought up debt for pennies on the dollar.

To be precise, the purchase wiped out $3,911,172.62 in debt. The average amount forgiven per household was $1,325.82.

“I am so proud of the people of the Missouri Mid-South Conference,” said the Rev. Mary Nelson, transitional leader of the regional body. “This is the second time in three years that we have held a major campaign to address the issue of medical debt relief, and we exceeded our goal.”

Contributions totaling $30,000 came from 19 Missouri congregations, one in Tennessee and a national UCC ministry, United Church Funds. The donors are listed here.

In Tennessee, the five counties with the highest amount of debt abolished were:

  • Bradley County ($336,427; 180 households), Campbell County ($221,191; 309 households), Coffee County ($195,181; 255 households), Putnam County ($112,435; 54 households), and Hamblen County ($63,000; 126 households).

In Arkansas, the four counties with the highest amount of debt abolished were:

  • Garland County ($729,702; 348 households), White County ($278,003; 121 households), Craighead County ($227,923; 226 households), and Poinsett County ($162,782; 114 households).

This is the ninth time the UCC has teamed up with RIP Medical Debt. Each time, they have used specific criteria. 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. 

Previously:

  • UCC churches in Chicago kicked off the medical debt buy initiative in late 2019, in collaboration with the denomination’s national ministries. That first buy abolished $5.3 million in debt for 5,888 families on the city’s South Side.
  • The collaborative efforts continued in 2020, with the Deaconess Foundation and several congregations in St. Louis abolishing $12.9 million; with nine churches in California’s East Bay area eliminating $7.4 million; 122 churches and individuals in the Southern New England Conference wiped out $26 million; and 20 churches in the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference forgave $5.2 million.
  • In April 2021, eight UCC congregations in the Washington, D.C., area teamed up with the national setting and the Potomac Association of the Central Atlantic Conference to abolish more than $9 million in medical debt in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and West Virginia, changing the lives of more than 7,800 families.
  • In June 2021, the national setting sent $15,000, money from First Congregational United Church of Christ, Lake Worth Fla., and from a Giving Tuesday 2019 campaign, to wipe out more than $1.3 million in medical debt for 815 families in Florida, Louisiana and Texas.
  • In July 2021, eleven churches of the Southwest Conference abolished $3.6 million in debt in eight Arizona counties, benefiting an additional 1,559 families.

In a little more than two years, the United Church of Christ, collaboratively, has wiped out more than $75 million in medical debt — touching families in every region of the country in which it serves. The denomination, now RIP’s biggest faith-based donor, still has a few buys pending before it ends its national initiative in early 2022. The total debt forgiven is expected to top $100 million.