Jun 30, 2022
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Two Church of God in Christ (C.O.G.I.C.) churches on the south side of Chicago and an orthodox synagogue and community in Skokie came together in partnership with RIP Medical Debt to eliminate nearly 2 million dollars of medical debt. 

The North Side Bright Star Church, St. James Ministries Chicago COGIC, Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob, and Solu-Walder Foundation eliminated 1.9 million dollars of medical debt held by Illinois residents in need.

“We were inspired by our shared scriptures that call us to spend 1 year out of every 7 years working on eliminating harmful debt, Rabbi Ari Hart wrote on his Facebook page. “ In Hebrew, this is called the shemittah year – the year of release, and this campaign was conducted during this shemitta year, 5782 or September 2021-September 2022.”

Rabbi Hart partnered with  Pastor Chris Harris, Sr., CEO of Bright Star Community Outreach.

Though most people are aware of the agricultural aspect of the Shemittah, it also has a financial element, causing all outstanding debts between debtors and creditors to be waived.

Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts. This shall be the nature of the remission: every creditor shall remit the due that he claims from his fellow; he shall not dun his fellow or kinsman, for the remission proclaimed is of Hashem. Deuteronomy 15:1-2

He emphasized that the program made Shemittah values “real” hile deepening and strengthening partnerships in the community.

The program eliminated debt for 2,327 individuals and families that qualify according to the following metrics:

  1. Earn less than 2x the federal poverty level (varies by state, family size).
  2. Debts are 5 percent or more of annual income.
  3. Facing insolvency — debts are greater than assets.

“This is a big deal,” Rabbi Hart wrote, explaining that unpaid medical bills have become the largest source of debt that Americans owe collections agencies, with 66% of bankruptcy filings tied to unresolved medical expenses. 25% of credit card debt in the US is due to medical expenses.

“These debts are not the result of poor choices,” he explained. “They are the result of illness and suffering. Just the fact that an individual owes medical debt decreases the likelihood that they will seek health care treatment, furthering the cycle of illness and need for future treatments.”

“We are so excited for the households whose debts were released through your support,” he continued. “And we know that there is way, way more work to be done. We hope that this effort helps shine a light on our broken medical financial system and strengthens calls for reform. No one should go bankrupt because they or a family member got sick. No one should fear getting needed medical attention because of debts they owe. We support efforts to hold medical providers and debt collectors accountable for harmful practices; forgive medical debt of impoverished Americans, and strengthen consumers’ hand in negotiating debts with creditors.”

Rabbi Hart suggested that people who are interested in the initiative donate to RIP Medical Debt, a New York-based 501(c)(3) charity focused on the elimination of personal medical debt. Founded in 2014, the charity purchases medical debt on the debt collection market, and then forgives the debt. The charity states that they pay about $1 for every $100 of debt that they purchase. The organization claims to have relieved $6.7 billion in debt to date for 3.6 million families.

“May the Shmitta year be a source of release for millions of Americans trapped by medical debt,” Rabbi Hart said, in blessing. “And for all those suffering under heavy burdens – physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, may you find Shmitta year release and rest. Amen!”