For Chicagoans struggling to make ends meet, the daily act of checking the mail can be anxiety-inducing. Aside from birthday cards and holiday letters, there isn’t often much good news, but there never seems to be any shortage of bills or debt collection attempts.
Soon, when bright yellow envelopes appear in thousands of mailboxes around Cook County with the words “RIP Medical Debt” on each one, recipients might assume it’s yet another bill. In reality, those envelopes contain the opposite, a potentially life-changing gift.
A network of area churches this summer banded together to take on the debt collection system that profits “on the backs of poor people”; to help restore bad credit marred by medical debt; and to inspire joy, said the organizers, the Rev. Otis Moss III and the Rev. Traci Blackmon. As a result, Moss said they’ve wiped out more than $5.3 million in medical debt, and they soon plan to send letters to nearly 6,000 Cook County residents with a no-strings-attached message: “May you have a beautiful, wonderful holiday. Your debt has been forgiven. Enjoy Thanksgiving.”
“People don’t know that they’re going to receive this,” Moss said. “And it’s my imagination that there will be 5,888 families in Cook County that will be shouting and thanking God that their debt has been forgiven.”
Blackmon, who lives near St. Louis and is a leader in the United Church of Christ, of which Moss’ Trinity Church is part, said last Thanksgiving she read about a nonprofit called RIP Medical Debt, which was founded by former debt collection agents. She reached out to Moss with the idea of partnering with the nonprofit to raise money to explicitly target areas in Cook County where many people live below the poverty line, including Englewood, Roseland, Auburn-Gresham, Washington Heights and West Pullman.
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