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Chicago Churches Help To Pay Off Cook County Residents' Medical Debt

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Thousands of people in Chicago will soon find something unusual in their mailboxes - letters telling them that their medical debt has been wiped away.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Yeah. This is part of a team effort. Several churches in Chicago teamed up with a nonprofit called RIP Medical Debt. Together, they wiped out more than $5.3 million of debt. Reverend Traci Blackmon helped organize the effort. She's the executive minister of Justice & Witness Ministries (ph) at the United Church of Christ.

TRACI BLACKMON: We hope it will have a ripple effect. We hope that this pebble we put in the pond will ripple out, and people who have been the beneficiaries of these gifts from us will then turn around and be a giver to someone else.

KING: She said people were jubilant when she made the announcement. And as for her...

BLACKMON: Well, I began to cry because I knew what it would mean for - it was exactly 5,888 people. I'll never forget that number. I knew what this would mean for them, that it was a new start for people.

MARTIN: Daniel Lempert is director of communications for RIP Medical Debt.

DANIEL LEMPERT: Forty-three million Americans - or roughly 1 in 5 - have delinquent medical debt on their credit reports.

MARTIN: Almost 6,000 residents of Cook County will now receive yellow envelopes in the next few days. They'll have information on the relieved debts inside along with a simple message, quote, "may you have a beautiful, wonderful holiday. Your debt has been forgiven. Enjoy Thanksgiving." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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