Emmanuel Church Clears $4 Million in Medical Debt for Local Families

Bills Paid for 3617 Central and Southern Illinois Households

Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church in Champaign has purchased $4 million in past due local medical debt with one purpose: to forgive it. This week, 3617 financially strapped households in counties throughout Central and Southern Illinois received letters informing them that their medical debts have been paid off by the church.

The Rev. Beth Maynard, Emmanuel’s Rector, announced the debt forgiveness initiative at Sunday services on March 31, when Bishop Martins was visiting the church for Confirmation.

Emmanuel raised funds for property repairs and upgrades during their building’s centennial year in 2017-18, but the church committed that after essential work was done, all remaining money would go to serve those outside its own walls. “Often people assume a church is going to ask for something from them,” said the Rev. Maynard. “We wanted to do the opposite and give to people in a way that makes a real difference.”

To find local households who were struggling with un-payable bills, Emmanuel worked with RIP Medical Debt, a New York-based charity founded by two former collection agency executives. Using a list of Episcopal Diocese of Springfield counties provided by the church, the charity searched bundled debt portfolios to locate Central and Southern Illinois accounts held by households in financial difficulty, and then negotiated bulk purchases at pennies on the dollar. Emmanuel’s donation of $15,000 offset debt of $4 million – over a 26000% return on investment.

“I applaud Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church for their dedication in realizing this important campaign,” said RIP co-founder, Jerry Ashton. “We feel incredibly privileged to work with any faith-based organization committed to relieving the burden of un-payable medical debt in its community.”

After learning of the number of households in the Diocese of Springfield benefiting from this forgiveness initiative, Bishop Martins wrote, “I am overjoyed with the news of Emmanuel’s exemplary stewardship of the resources entrusted to them. The knowledge of the concrete impact this will have on families in central and southern Illinois is a sign of the abundant goodness of the God whom we worship.”

Emmanuel also made donations benefiting two Champaign-Urbana nonprofits as part of their centennial campaign: empty tomb, which deploys church volunteers to assist local families with a diverse range of needs, and the grassroots homelessness ministry C-U at Home.

43 million Americans now owe about $75 billion in past-due medical debt, and medical debt is a major contributor to bankruptcies. After learning about the issue, Emmanuel’s Mission Leadership Team voted in January to approach RIP Medical Debt about helping the church intervene in this crisis on behalf of households in the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield. The organization accepts larger gifts like Emmanuel’s, but individuals can make donations as well.

Credit agencies are notified that these debts have been cleared for the 3617 families affected, which should immediately help their credit ratings. The Rev. Maynard commented, “In the Episcopal Church this is the season of Lent, when we focus on God forgiving our debts through the work of Christ on the Cross. I can’t think of a better time or a more practical way to spread the message of forgiveness.”

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