Over the past several months, at the initiative of the Montclair Interfaith Clergy Association and with support from many generous community partners, dozens of people have come together to erase medical debt in our community.

In the coming weeks, families in Montclair and Bloomfield who have outstanding medical debt — debt that they did not choose to accumulate — and who earn less than twice the federal poverty level will receive letters from RIP Medical Debt saying that their debts have been abolished.

The people of Union Congregational Church, Congregation Shomrei Emunah, First Congregational UCC of Montclair, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, Temple Ner Tamid, Bnai Keshet and a host of generous individual donors have combined to forgive more than $3 million of outstanding medical debt, through more than $31,000 in fundraising, over the past several months (every $100 donated to RIP Medical Debt forgives $10,000). This was a great example of people of differing faith communities and perspectives working toward the common good and attempting to rectify a gross injustice.

More than half of all personal bankruptcies in the USA have medical debt at their root. Of those, more than 70% of people had some form of insurance when their primary incident occurred. We are the only country that allows people who get cancer to have to battle their health and personal finances at the same time. Just imagine being hounded by debt collectors because you could not pay for an emergency room visit for a child, being afraid to open the mail because you had an accident in your house, or being afraid to answer the phone because of an illness you contracted. We sincerely hope folks in this situation will get a bit of relief from this debt being wiped off the books.

We give thanks to RIP Medical Debt for their great work in making this debt available to forgive, to John Oliver for publicizing the work of predatory debt forgivers on his show, and for the countless good people of conscience out there who have realized that there’s a wrong that must be righted.

To be sure, we have much work to do for these debts to never be incurred by anyone in the future. The hard work is still in front of us. But this effort was a great example of what can happen when Jews, Christians, Unitarians, agnostics and atheists work together. My heartfelt gratitude to every donor. My heartfelt hope for every recipient of a letter that is coming in the mail, that you’ll find some relief in the abolishment of your debt, and my heartfelt prayers for our country to stop the madness — nobody should ever be left holding a bill they can never pay because they happened to fall ill. Even in this age of division, surely we can all agree on that essential premise.

I write in gratitude for the kindness of my Montclair neighbors.

The Rev. Dr. David Shaw
Senior Minister, Union Congregational Church


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