Nearly 6,000 residents of Chicago’s South Side will see their medical debt wiped out thanks to local and national members of the United Christian Church. After raising about $38,000, the churches partnered with a nonprofit founded by former debt collectors to buy out and forgive $5.3 million worth of medical debt.
Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, stopped by Reset to share more about the project and its impact on the Chicago area.
Below are highlights from the conversation.
On why they decided to buy medical debt
The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III: Debt is usually written off, for those who are in the medical industry, is just simply written off and then sold to these debt collecting agencies. And so what we see is that there are people who are making money off of other people's misery. So if you imagine $38,000, a debt collector is purchasing, for $38,000, $5.3 million … they're making massive amounts of money because there's so much greed. Predatory capitalism is centerpiece in how the medical industry functions. And we wanted to operate with compassion, with restoration, and empower people because the number one reason that people lose their homes is because of medical debt. … For most African Americans, their wealth is rooted in their home. If they lose their home, they then do not pass on wealth. They pass on debt to their children. And we wanted to relieve that burden in Chicago.
On how they got other churches on board
Moss: Well, it was just really building relationships. ... I picked up the phone and called several of our friends … and every single one of them said said yes. So we had people of different denominations. We had people in different sectors. But everybody, every community has someone who is dealing with medical debt. … We all came together because we recognize that we want to shift the narrative of not only what the church is called to do, but we want to shift the narrative in this election season. In this election season, greed has been centerpiece in America, and we believe that predatory capitalism does not foster a future for our children.
On why they chose to target three South Side zip codes
Moss: We want to make sure ... that we focused on those who were the poorest of the poor. We were operating on the biblical model that the last shall be first, the first shall be last ... so we focused on these areas. Now it's all through Cook County, but these areas proportionally had a higher level of medical debt. We also focused on certain rural areas that also had a high number of medical debt, but of course, you didn't have the high number of people in that area. So it ended up being Auburn Gresham, Englewood, West Pullman, Roseland [and] Washington Heights had the highest proportion, and they will receive these letters coming up very soon saying that your debt has been forgiven.
On how the project will impact local communities
Moss: I said on Sunday … [that] within a couple of weeks in Chicago, you're going to see people shouting all over the city. They'll be at the bus stop. They'll be at the corner of 79th and Cottage Grove because they found out that their debts are forgiven. As a result of their debts are forgiven, guess what? They're gonna be able to pass on their wealth to their children. They're gonna be able to take out a second mortgage, maybe not for medical debt, but maybe for a home improvement that will be an investment in their family. When we allow people to thrive, we allow them to utilize their own creativity to transform their local neighborhood. … We're talking about blessing elders and blessing youth. We're talking about blessing generations that haven't been born.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.
GUEST: Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ