EAGLE ROCK, Calif. - An Eagle Rock church is giving an impressive gift to thousands of low-income SoCal families this Christmas.
Christian Assembly Church, working in conjunction with a debt-relief nonprofit, is eliminating the medical debt of 5,555 households across the Los Angeles area -- worth $5.3 million.
"Because of the generosity of the people at Christian Assembly Church, we are able to give a Christmas gift to the people of Los Angeles, no strings attached,'' co-pastor Tom Hughes said in a video posted online announcing the gift.
The church worked with the nonprofit RIP Medical Debt, which claims to have helped eliminate more than $1 billion in medical debt for people nationwide by helping groups purchase debt from medical providers and debt sellers for pennies on the dollar.
Hughes said the church mapped out 28 neighborhoods across the area that are home to 15 or more active church members, and determined there were 5,555 households in those neighborhoods that earn less than twice the federal poverty benchmark and have medical debt, totaling $5.3 million.
Over the next week, debt-burdened people in those neighborhoods will be receiving letters from the church notifying them that their medical debts are being eliminated. Hughes said the church was able to purchase the debt for one penny on the dollar.
"Once we do this, it will end the harassing phone calls from the debt collectors,'' Hughes said on the video. "Not only that, we will work with the credit agencies to repair their credit score for the impact of their unpaid medical bills.''
Hughes said the effort will remove a "crushing weight'' from low-income families, noting that 60% of people who declare personal bankruptcy do so because of medical debt, even if they have insurance.
"As they recover from their illness, it will help them get back on their feet and avoid homelessness,'' Hughes said.
"... It's being done simply because of the generosity of our God and the compassion and the mercy he has shown us,'' he said.