Just a week after UCC clergy in Chicago announced a collaborative effort that erased $5.3 million in medical debt for almost 6,000 families who live at or below poverty on the city's south side, the denomination is laying the groundwork to continue that mission in other parts of the country.
"Our efforts in the Chicago area served as a launching pad, in collaboration with the UCC's 38 conferences and almost 5,000 congregations, to medical debt relief efforts for those living at or below poverty in the 50 states and the District of Columbia we currently serve," said the Rev. Traci Blackmon, associate general minister of Justice and Local Church Ministries, on Sunday, Oct. 20. JLCM partnered this summer with the Illinois Conference and several Chicago churches to raise $38,000 to buy medical debt in three Chicago ZIP codes for pennies in the dollar. Letters, in yellow envelopes bearing the UCC logo, were sent Monday, Oct. 21, to families informing them their debt has been forgiven.
"It is the intent of the United Church of Christ to make this tangible ministry of debt abolishment in our denominational regions another expression of the ways we seek to live out our commitment to Three Great Loves: Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, Love of Creation," Blackmon said today. "We intend to contribute to a debt abolishment quarterly through Synod 2021, or as long as our churches desire to continue."
"This is what love in action looks like," said UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer. "An ongoing emphasis on the mission model of Three Great Loves was created to help highlight what churches in partnership can do to change the world. Love of neighbor, love of children, love of creation – through these lenses we are in pursuit of seeing how love in action can change lives."
The UCC plans to accomplish this in the following ways:
• Resources collected through Giving Tuesday 2019 (Dec. 3) will be used to abolish medical debt in partnership with conferences, associations, and local churches who desire to join the effort. The monies will be used to contribute to local and regional efforts.
• The UCC will work in partnership with RIP Medical Debt, a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation, which will act as administrator for the purchase of available medical debt within the UCC's parameters.
• JLCM will use the debt abolishment mission to elevate what Blackmon called "the unconscionable cost and profiteering of healthcare in the United States and its devastating impact on families as a critical issue as we enter 2020 elections."
"Millions of Americans are encumbered by medical debt, with most being unable to make regular payments," said the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, associate general minister, Global Engagement. "This intentional effort to assist communities most affected by implementing this debt abolishment program is one way that the UCC is living into its commitment and vision for a just world for all. Justice demands that we love radically and act out that love in ways that extend us beyond ourselves and move us to concrete action."
Blackmon has already identified the next city for medical debt abolishment and is putting together a regional group of collaborators to make another purchase by the end of the year.
"The joy of giving in a way where you see tangible evidence of a life improved is sacred," Dorhauer said. "Removing a household from the burden of medical debt may seem like a small thing, but this collaboration is improving the lives of many. Thank you to all who contributed, or who are about to."
Updates on the UCC's national Giving Tuesday medical debt campaign can be found at this web page. For more information, to inquire about ways to partner in this effort or to make a gift to the initiative, please contact JLCM associate Denise Pittman.